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

Fixture: Northampton Saints v Sale Sharks

By Tom Vickers
Friday, 18th February 2022, 12:42 pm

Competition: Gallagher Premiership

Venue: cinch Stadium at Franklin's Gardens, Northampton

Date and kick-off time: Saturday, February 19, 2022, 3pm

Weather forecast: 8c, cloudy

Live television coverage: None

Referee: Tom Foley

Saints: Hutchinson; Sleightholme, Proctor, Dingwall (c), Skosan; Furbank, Mitchell; Iyogun, Matavesi, Painter; Ribbans, Nansen; Wilkins, Harrison, Augustus.

David Ribbans and Co will have a fight on their hands against Sale on Saturday

Replacements: Haywood, Waller, Hill, Ratuniyarawa, Coles, Lomani, Grayson, Francis.

Sale Sharks: S James; Roebuck, R du Preez, van Rensburg, Reed; MacGinty, Quirke; Harrison, Langdon, Oosthuizen; Wiese, JP du Preez; JL du Preez, Ross (c), D du Preez.

Replacements: Taylor, McIntyre, Jones, Barrow, Nield, de Klerk, Doherty, McGuigan.

Not considered for Saints selection: Matthew Arden, Emeka Atuanya, Dan Biggar, Tommy Freeman, Jake Garside, Oisin Heffernan, Tom James, Lewis Ludlam, Alex Moon, Taqele Naiyaravoro, Kayde Sylvester, Tom Wood.

Most recent meeting: Saturday, November 6, 2021: Sale Sharks 30 Saints 6 (Gallagher Premiership)

Tom's preview: There are two schools of thought heading into Saturday's crucial league game at the Gardens.

One is that this is the ideal fixture in which to issue a response after Saints were pummeled up front by table-topping Leicester Tigers last Friday.

The other is that this is a far from ideal way to back up that fixture because, put simply, Saints have so often shown they struggle to deal with teams who employ a direct game plan.

Within the corridors of the Gardens, the first school of thought will ring out, as displayed by Fraser Dingwall's post-match interview at Mattioli Woods Welford Road.

The Saints skipper, in the absence of club captain Lewis Ludlam, believes this is a big chance for his team to put things right and prove they can live with the immense physicality of the opposition.

Sale, after all, have plenty of powerhouse forwards, with their South African contingent certainly packing a punch.

Saints actually dealt with the Sharks reasonably well in the reverse fixture back in November, enjoying plenty of territory and possession.

But, ultimately, it was the standard outcome at the AJ Bell Stadium as they fell to a 30-6 defeat against a Sharks team who showed their teeth when it mattered.

Sale are still down in ninth position, but they are only four points adrift of fourth, such is the incredibly tight nature of the Premiership this season.

Saints are one point above Sale in seventh, meaning this fixture is so crucial as teams who have hopes of booking a play-off place try to dent the bid of an opposition team while enhancing their own league position.

But can Saints really combat the Sale power game, especially as Alex Sanderson's side are currently full of belief after claiming four successive wins?

During that time, the Sharks have seen off Harlequins and Leicester, and they will fancy their chances of beating Saints, too.

But if Chris Boyd's side are to have any hope of finishing in the top four this season, these are the games they have to be winning.

They are at home against a play-off rival who will look to take the fight to them.

Now it's time for Saints to show they can win the arm wrestle and give their backs something to feed off as they bid to sink the Sharks on Saturday.

Tom's prediction: This is a really tough game for Saints and with key men like Courtney Lawes, Lewis Ludlam and Dan Biggar missing, Sale might be too strong. Saints 21 Sale 27.