Sale Sharks v Northampton Saints: Tom Vickers' match preview
Fixture: Sale Sharks v Northampton Saints
Competition: Anglo-Welsh Cup
Venue: AJ Bell Stadium, Eccles
Date: Saturday, January 27, 2018
Kick-off time: 2pm
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It’s been a ‘roller coaster’ for perfect Steelmen
Television coverage: None
Sale Sharks: Haley; Charnley, Addison (c),L James, Odogwu; Wilkinson, de Klerk; Flynn, Jones, John; Evans, Beaumont; Ioane, Neild, Moore.Replacements: Langdon, Pope, Tarus, Postlethwaite, Seymour, Nott, Cliff, Redpath.Saints: Tuala; Pisi, Tuitavake, Stephenson, North; Myler, Reinach; Van Wyk, Marshall, Brookes; Ratuniyarawa, Day (c); Ribbans, Ludlam, Nutley.Replacements: Clare, Ma'afu, Ford-Robinson, Paterson, Wood, Mitchell, Grayson, Collins.
Outs: Saints: Alex Waller (arm), Jamie Elliott (hamstring), Piers Francis (concussion), Luther Burrell (calf), Mitch Eadie, James Craig
Referee: Greg MacDonald
Most recent meeting: Saturday, November 25, 2017: Sale Sharks 18 Saints 15 (Aviva Premiership)
Tom's preview: It may not be the most glamorous of fixtures, but Saturday's Anglo-Welsh Cup trip to Sale Sharks is certainly one of significance for Saints.
After all, it comes in a competition the black, green and gold still have more than a chance of winning.
They may only have been victorious in one of their two matches to date - they were thrashed at Exeter before demolishing the Dragons - but they are sitting pretty at the top of Pool 3.
No other side in Saints' four-team group has won a game yet.
And that means the men from Northampton are four points clear going into their final two group games.
With a sizeable squad to call on, many of whom have played for the all-conquering Wanderers during the past couple of years, Saints can claim Anglo-Welsh Cup glory.
It does not compare with the major competitions, but every player wants a piece of silverware to show for their efforts.
And Saints can use this competition not only to pick up a trophy but to gather some momentum ahead of crucial Aviva Premiership matches in February, March, April and May.
Their strong start to 2018 came to a shuddering halt at Saracens last Saturday, with the home side inflicting a 62-14 defeat on their beleaguered opponents.
But Saints simply have to forget about their Sarries woes - they have been hammered in all three meetings with the Barnet-based outfit this season - and move on.
If they can see off Sale and Harlequins in the coming weeks, they will be in good shape going to Bath in the league on February 9.
And that is the immediate aim.
A top-six finish and an Anglo-Welsh Cup winners medal would see the players end the season with something to shout about.
And upbeat coaching consultant Alan Gaffney and his fellow coaches will demand that as a minimum requirement.
Whether Saints can meet those expectations remains to be seen, but a victory on Saturday would start them off on the right foot.
And it would certainly help to banish those Allianz Park demons.
Tom's prediction: Sale 15 Saints 30