Sale Sharks v Northampton Saints: Tom Vickers' match preview

Fixture: Sale Sharks v Northampton Saints

Friday, 24th November 2017, 12:41 pm
Updated Wednesday, 6th December 2017, 12:57 pm

Competition: Aviva Premiership (round nine)Venue: AJ Bell Stadium, EcclesDate: Saturday, November 25, 2017Kick-off time: 5.30pmTelevision coverage: NoneSale Sharks: Haley; Solomona, James, Jennings, Yarde; O'Connor, De Klerk; Harrison, Webber, John; Evans, Ostrikov; Ross (c), B Curry, Strauss.Replacements: Jones, Flynn, Aulika, Nott, Neild, Van Rensburg, Cliff, Addison.Saints: Mallinder; Estelles, Hutchinson, Stephenson, Foden; Grayson, Reinach; Waller, Haywood, Ford-Robinson; Paterson, Dickinson(c); Wood, Gibson, Harrison.Replacements: Marshall, Van Wyk, Hill, Moon, Eadie, Groom, Myler, Collins.Referee: Karl DicksonMost recent meeting: Friday, March 3, 2017: Sale Sharks 12 Saints 32 (Aviva Premiership)Tom's preview: Back in March, Saints headed up to the AJ Bell Stadium seemingly more in hope than expectation.They had endured some tough times at the home of Sale Sharks in previous years and their form suggested they may be bitten once again.But Jim Mallinder's men, who had won just two of their past six games in all competitions - and those were against the Dragons and Worcester - upset the odds.They turned in their most complete performance of the campaign, putting to bed their defensive issues as they shipped just 12 points while scoring 32.It was an accomplished wet-weather display and one which they could be proud of.And it is exactly the kind of showing they will be asked to produce again this weekend.Whether they can do it, is another question, but the fact their most recent visit to the AJ Bell Stadium was a happy one at least evokes good memories.Not that this can erase recent events, with Saints having lost five of their past six matches, conceding a four tries or more in each of those defeats.As boss Mallinder said after last Saturday's hugely disappointing defeat to Worcester Warriors, the team must improve in 'every aspect'.The defence and the scrum continue to worry supporters, with Worcester putting them under real pressure in both areas and reaping the rewards last week.The Saints pack has work to do to restore the parity the backs need to be able to flourish.And those attacking players also have a point to prove after coach Alan Dickens admitted they 'failed to fire a shot' at Sixways last weekend.It all points to another tough afternoon, if Saints don't find a way to improve.Sale haven't impressed in the Aviva Premiership this season, but they do pride themselves on their home form.And with the likes of James O'Connor, Marland Yarde and Denny Solomona to call upon, the threats come from everywhere.If the Sharks pack gets the bit between its teeth, they will be hard to stop.But that is the mission for Saints this weekend and as Jamie Gibson said earlier this week, there is a point for him and his team-mates to prove.They must prove they can compete, like during mid and late September.And they must prove that they have the ability and the answers to end a barren recent run.If they don't, it will be another difficult day in what is turning into a very difficult season.Tom's prediction: Sale Sharks 25 Saints 17

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