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

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Fixture: Sale Sharks v Northampton Saints

Competition: Gallagher Premiership

Date and kick-off time: Friday, September 9, 2022, 7.45pm

Venue: Salford Stadium

Weather forecast: 18c, showers

Live coverage: None

Referee: Matthew Carley

Sale Sharks: L James; Roebuck, S James, Tuilagi, O'Flaherty; R du Preez, Warr; McIntyre, van der Merwe, Schonert; Wiese, Postlethwaite; JL du Preez, B Curry (c), D du Preez.

Saints impressed at Leicester but fell short in last season's Premiership play-off semi-finalsSaints impressed at Leicester but fell short in last season's Premiership play-off semi-finals
Saints impressed at Leicester but fell short in last season's Premiership play-off semi-finals

Replacements: Taylor, Harrison, Oosthuizen, Beaumont, Ross, Simpson, Curtis, Reed.

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Saints: Collins; Sleightholme, Proctor, Dingwall (c), Skosan; J Grayson, Mitchell; A Waller, Haywood, Hill; Salakaia-Loto, Coles; Scott-Young, Aaron Hinkley, Augustus.

Replacements: S Matavesi, Iyogun, Petch, Moon, Graham, James, Litchfield, Furbank.

Not considered for Saints selection: Dan Biggar, Callum Burns, Tommy Freeman, Joseph Gaffan, Danny Hobbs-Awoyemi, Rory Hutchinson, Courtney Lawes, Tom Lockett, Lewis Ludlam, Ehren Painter, James Ramm, David Ribbans, Frankie Sleightholme, Karl Wilkins.

Tom's preview: Ah, Sale away - it's fair to say it's not the ideal fixture on any day of the Premiership season, never mind the opening one.

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Phil Dowson's first league fixture as black, green and gold could have been simpler than one at a ground where Saints have won just twice (2012 and 2017) in 10 previous league visits.

But if you look at it from a glass half full perspective, what a chance this is for the new Northampton era to start with a bang.

That was exactly the thought Alex Waller, heading into his 14th season at the club, shared this week, insisting there was no trepidation ahead of the trip north.

Instead, he was sure excitement was the overriding emotion as Saints seek to show they can mix it with the league's most physical sides from the off.

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Many Northampton teams have gone before, suffering at the hands of the Sharks, who provide such bite at their home stadium.

Saints have found it tough to live with them on so many occasions, eventually being ground down on their way to defeat.

And with 14 players, several of whom are internationals, missing, there is no doubt that Dowson's side will face a huge task this afternoon.

However, scaling mountains was something Saints made a habit of late last season.

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They seemed to have little chance of enduring anything other than a sobering end to the campaign when they fell to defeat at Gloucester on March 5.

But back they came, beating the odds as they put together a scintillating run of form that propelled them into the Gallagher Premiership play-offs.

They went on to truly front up to Leicester Tigers, with many missed first-half chances costing them dear against the eventual champions at Mattioli Woods Welford Road.

Saints showed during that run that when they are on it physically, they can be a match for anyone.

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And even though a summer has passed and many players have headed for the cinch Stadium at Franklin's Gardens exit door, they will desperately hope that feelgood factor remains.

They need to find a way to bottle that late-season momentum and breathe it into the 2022/23 season.

And what better place to start than at a ground where they have had so little to shout about for so many years.

Tom's prediction: Trips to Sale really haven't been rewarding for Saints in recent times, and this will be another really tough one. Manu Tuilagi and Tom O'Flaherty have tormented the black, green and gold so often, and you feel they will have a say here. Saints may have to wait for their first win. Sale 26 Saints 15

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