Northampton Saints v Sale Sharks: Tom Vickers' big match preview

Saints were beaten by Denny Solomona and Sale back in November
Saints were beaten by Denny Solomona and Sale back in November

Fixture: Northampton Saints v Sale Sharks

Competition: Gallagher Premiership (round 13)

Venue: Franklin's Gardens, Northampton

Date and kick-off time: Saturday, February 16, 2019, 2pm

Television coverage: None

Referee: Karl Dickson

Saints: Furbank; Tuala, Hutchinson, Francis, Naiyaravoro; Biggar, Reinach; van Wyk, Fish, Painter, Ratuniyarawa, Moon; Gibson, Ludlam, Wood (c).

Replacements: Marshall, Waller, Hill, Coles, Brüssow, Mitchell, Burrell, Collins.

Sale Sharks: S James; Solomona, O’Connor, Janse van Rensburg, McGuigan; MacGinty, de Klerk; Harrison, Webber, John; Evans, Phillips; Ross (c), B Curry, Beaumont.

Replacements: Neild, Bristow, Jones, Ostrikov, Strauss, Cliff, James, Reed.

Outs: Saints: Courtney Lawes (international duty). Mike Haywood, Dylan Hartley, Harry Mallinder, Andy Symons (all knee), Tom Emery (shoulder), Teimana Harrison (hamstring), David Ribbans (illness).

Most recent meeting: Saturday, November 24, 2018: Sale Sharks 18 Saints 13 (Gallagher Premiership)

Tom's preview: There has been plenty of talk of late of how Saints are still competing on all three fronts this season.

Some may raise their eyebrows at that considering they currently sit ninth in the Gallagher Premiership.

But the fact of the matter remains that Chris Boyd's side are still just six points off the top four with 10 league games to play.

And if they are to stay alive in the hunt for the play-offs, the next four weeks will be pivotal.

Saints have a huge chance to put themselves in contention with three home league games coming up before they play Saracens in the Premiership Rugby Cup final on March 17.

They also have to go to Saracens in the Premiership, on March 2, before that and if they can take confidence from recent results, who knows where the black, green and gold could be sitting before savouring their Franklin's Gardens showpiece next month.

There is little between Saints and any of their next three Gardens opponents, with Sale, Bath and Bristol Bears all within touching distance in the table.

Sale are three points ahead of Boyd's side, having gone five games unbeaten in the Premiership.

Bath are just two points ahead of Saints, who are two ahead of Bristol.

And with home advantage against all three of those teams, now really is the time for the black, green and gold to stamp their mark on the season.

They have been scoring tries for fun of late, racking up an astonishing 39 in their past four matches.

But they will know they have to work even harder for such rewards in the Premiership.

Even so, this is their big chance.

If they can take it, not only will they still be alive on three fronts when that final comes around next month, they will be in great shape mentally.

We are getting to season-defining territory, and a win on Saturday would set Saints up very nicely indeed.

Tom's prediction: Saints 30 Sale Sharks 24