Tom Vickers’ Northampton Saints v Sale Sharks preview

BAD DAY - Tom Wood shows his disappointment after Saints' defeat at Sale in November
BAD DAY - Tom Wood shows his disappointment after Saints' defeat at Sale in November

Fixture: Northampton Saints v Sale Sharks (Aviva Premiership - round 16)

Date/kick-off time: Saturday, March 12, 2pm

Weather forecast: 11C, mostly cloudy

Referee: JP Doyle

Outs: Saints: Clark (shoulder), Hartley, Brookes, North (international duty).

Saints: Foden; K Pisi, G Pisi, Burrell, Collins; Myler, Dickson (c); E Waller, Haywood, Hill; Craig, Day; Gibson, Wood, Harrison.

Replacements: Marshall, A Waller, Denman, Matfield, Fisher, Fotuali’i, Hanrahan, Mallinder.

Sale Sharks: Haley; Arscott, James, Tuitupou, Addison; Cipriani, Stringer; Harrison, Taylor, Cobilas; Evans, Ostrikov; Neild, Seymour, TJ Ioane.

Replacements: Briggs, Lewis Roberts, Mujati, Mills, Lund, Cusiter, Ford, Jennings.

Most recent meeting: Sunday, November 1: Sale Sharks 20 Saints 13 (Aviva Premiership - round three)

Tom’s preview: Tom Wood was pulling no punches in his assessment of Saints’ performance at Sale earlier in the season.

The England star gave his typically honest view after an encounter his team had lost 20-13, labelling the display ‘rubbish’.

In fact, it was the third year in succession that Saints have served up that kind of showing at the AJ Bell Stadium.

Unlike Allianz Park, where Saints have won on three of their four league visits, Jim Mallinder’s men have not found the AJ Bell Stadium to their liking.

They have been swept up, finding their chances of earning crucial points placed firmly in the bin.

But that has certainly not been the case when it comes to home clashes with the same side.

In fact, the tables turn completely when Sale make their way to Northampton.

The Sharks have not won at Franklin’s Gardens since May, 2006, which was the season when they claimed the Premiership title.

Saints have always found a way to sink them, no matter how hard coaches have tried to change the men from Greater Manchester’s fortunes.

But this Saturday, it seems as though Sale will fancy their chances of ending their barren run at the Gardens.

They have only lost once in 2016 and have beaten three of the top four teams in the league, drawing with the other, Saracens.

They won at Leicester last month, achieving the rare feat of earning a victory at Welford Road.

And with the squad largely unaffected by international call-ups, the Sharks are looking to swim up the table.

But Saints must stop their flow this weekend.

And they too should be saturated with belief following a run of four wins from five games.

They played extremely well at Saracens last weekend, controlling the game and ensuring the league leaders never looked like scoring.

And how they need to maintain that form on Saturday.

It is often said there are no easy games in the Premiership, and there certainly won’t be for the remainder of the season.

Saints have Sale, Exeter Chiefs, Harlequins and Wasps to come before the Champions Cup quarter-final at Saracens on April 9.

It is an attritional run of games in the most onerous of campaigns and the teams who gather silverware this season will really have earned it.

Saints have shown that they are up for the fight, battling up to fifth, just two points behind Wasps and four behind Leicester, with those two teams meeting at the Ricoh Arena this weekend.

That means there is a big chance to get back in the top four before the testing trip to Sandy Park.

And if history tells us anything, it is that Saints can achieve their aim by slaying the Sharks on Saturday.

Tom’s prediction: Saints 25 Sale 20