Tom Vickers’ Northampton Saints versus Sale Sharks preview

TOUGH AFTERNOON - Saints were second best to Sale on their most recent meeting in March
TOUGH AFTERNOON - Saints were second best to Sale on their most recent meeting in March
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Fixture: Northampton Saints v Sale Sharks (Aviva Premiership round six)

Date/kick-off time: Saturday, October 11 (3.15pm kick-off)

Venue: Franklin’s Gardens, Northampton

Weather forecast: 17C, chance of rain

Saints: Foden; K Pisi, G Pisi, Burrell, Elliott; Myler, L Dickson; A Waller, Haywood, Ma’afu; Lawes, Craig; Wood, Fisher, Manoa.

Replacements: Hartley, E Waller, Denman, C Day, Clark, Fotuali’i, Wilson, North.

Sale: McLean; Brady, Leota, Jennings, Arscott; Cipriani, Cusiter; Harrison, Jones, Cobilas; Beaumont, Paterson; Lund, Seymour, Easter.

Replacements: Neild, de Marchi, Lewis Roberts, Mills, Fihaki, Cliff, Ford, Forsyth.

Outs: Saints: Corbisiero (both shoulder), Dickinson (neck), G Dickson (hip)

Sale Sharks: Dan Braid (knee)

Most recent meeting: Thursday, April 3: Sale Sharks 14 Saints 28

Tom’s preview: There are always staging posts in sport; points at which teams stop to refuel and take stock.

And back in March, it seemed Saints’ tank had run dry.

On a strange afternoon in Salford, anxiety appeared to shroud a team that had, for the large part, been stress-free.

Saints were suffocated by a Sale Sharks side building a reputation for stifling the best of sides.

Nothing clicked.

Messages were relayed but seemed to get lost in translation.

Saints, with their international enforcers back in the mix for the first time since the conclusion of the Six Nations, were ‘knackered’.

That was the word used by Sale boss Steve Diamond, who had seen his side run out 19-6 winners at the AJ Bell Stadium.

And it was hard to argue with the outcome.

Saints had suffered an LV= Cup final defeat against Exeter at Sandy Park a week earlier.

It was a result that ended a stunning 13-match unbeaten run, and Jim Mallinder’s men headed up north needing a lift.

But they were sent packing with little consolation to take from an irksome afternoon.

At that point, doubts started to surface.

Were Saints really good enough to win the league?

Could all of their Six Nations stars get back on the same page quickly enough to keep the Premiership title bid on track?

Thankfully for everyone of a green, black and gold persuasion, the answer to both questions was yes.

And how long ago that sobering afternoon in Salford feels now as the Sharks loom large on the horizon once more.

Since March, Saints have not only proven they were up to the task in the Premiership, but also claimed the Amlin Challenge Cup trophy for good measure.

They currently reside at the top of the league table, having asserted the authority champions possess.

And they look in great shape for a crack at the Rugby Champions Cup when it begins next weekend.

Yes, those March memories seem far away.

But for Saints it won’t hurt to stop and reflect on them for a moment as they bid to avoid a more pointed reminder this Saturday.

Tom’s prediction: Saints 32 Sale Sharks 15