Tom Vickers’ Sale Sharks versus Northampton Saints preview

PAINFUL AFTERNOON  - Tom Wood and Kahn Fotuali'i show their disappointment after Saints' defeat at Sale in March
PAINFUL AFTERNOON - Tom Wood and Kahn Fotuali'i show their disappointment after Saints' defeat at Sale in March

Fixture: Sale Sharks v Northampton Saints (Aviva Premiership round 13)

Date/kick-off time: Saturday, January 10, 2pm

Venue: AJ Bell Stadium

Weather forecast: 6C, partly cloudy

Referee: Matthew Carley

Sale: Haley; Addison, Leota, Tuitupou, Cueto; Cipriani, Cusiter; Lewis-Roberts, Jones, Cobilas; Mills, Hines; Braid (c), Lund, Beaumont.

Replacements: Neild, de Marchi, Harrison, Ioane, Seymour, Cliff, Macleod, Arscott.

Saints: Foden; Elliott, G Pisi, Burrell, North; Myler, Dickson; Corbisiero, Haywood, Ma’afu; Dickinson, Clark; Wood (c), Nutley, Dowson.

Replacements: Williams, A Waller, Denman, Onojaife, Harrison, Hodgson, Wilson, K Pisi.

Outs: Sale: Taylor, Paterson (both knee). Saints: Fisher (toe), Hartley (suspended - week three of three), Fotuali’i (shoulder), Manoa (compassionate leave).

Most recent meeting: Saturday, October 11: Saints 43 Sale 10 (Aviva Premiership)

Tom’s preview: Happy New Year, Sale Sharks.

The fixture gods have handed Steve Diamond’s men the toughest start to 2015 imaginable.

And after the Sharks were sunk 41-16 by Wasps at the Ricoh Arena last weekend, the current kings of the midlands head north to provide the opposition this weekend.

Diamond freshened things up for the clash in Coventry, making seven changes, with plenty of talk that his men would target victory against Saints on Saturday.

And with Champions Cup tests against Clermont Auvergne and Munster lying in wait before January is out, it would certainly be a big boost for the AJ Bell Stadium residents.

But news that the Saints might have something of a bounty on their head has actually gone down quite well at Franklin’s Gardens.

At this week’s press gathering, James Wilson brought the subject up.

He discussed how Saints had noted the Sharks’ determination to repeat last March’s Premiership success in Salford.

And he spoke about the added fire that has placed in the bellies of the men in green, black and gold.

Saints love to feel they are being hunted.

After all, they have felt that way since they won the title back in May.

And they have certainly embraced the challenge of being the ones to beat.

They will welcome the blood and thunder battle on enemy territory this weekend and will be desperate to make it 11 wins from 13 league games this season.

After all, they too will be desperate to go into their crucial Champions Cup double header, against Ospreys and Racing Metro, in the highest of spirits.

For Saints it is also a tough month, with an LV= Cup match at local rivals Leicester crowning it on the final day before February begins.

But such is the belief among Jim Mallinder’s men that they will feel they can continue a winning streak that has now reached seven matches.

They know there are defensive improvements to be made.

The concession of seven tries in the past two games has hurt defence coach Alan Dickens and his men.

And they will know they need to be better if they are to avoid defeat this weekend.

But Saints have the ability to avenge last season’s Salford shock and ensure Sale’s dry January continues.

Tom’s prediction: Sale 18 Saints 21