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

Saints were beaten 18-15 at the AJ Bell Stadium on November 25 last year (picture: Kirsty Edmonds)
Saints were beaten 18-15 at the AJ Bell Stadium on November 25 last year (picture: Kirsty Edmonds)

Fixture: Sale Sharks v Northampton Saints

Competition: Gallagher Premiership (round eight)

Venue: AJ Bell Stadium, Eccles

Date and kick-off time: Saturday, November 24, 2018, 1pm

Television coverage: None

Referee: JP Doyle

Sale Sharks: S James; Solomona, O’Connor, James, Reed; R Du Preez, De Klerk; Harrison, Webber, John; Beaumont, Phillips, Ross (c), B Curry, Du Preez.
Replacements: Langdon, Bristow, Jones, Evans, Neild, Cliff, Wilkinson, Odogwu.

Saints: Furbank; Kellaway, Dingwall, Burrell, Naiyaravoro; Grayson, Reinach; Waller (c), Fish, Hill; Ratuniyarawa, Moon; Wood, Ludlam, Harrison.
Replacements: Marshall, van Wyk, Franks, Barrow, Eadie, Gibson, Mitchell, Sleightholme.

Outs: Saints: Ken Pisi (shoulder), Nafi Tuitavake (neck), Andy Symons (knee), Jamal Ford-Robinson (knee), Harry Mallinder (knee), James Haskell (ankle), Heinrich Brüssow (concussion), James Craig (concussion), Tom Emery (shoulder), Ehren Painter (back), Mike Haywood (knee), Tom Collins (eye), Dylan Hartley, Courtney Lawes, Dan Biggar, Ahsee Tuala (all international duty).

Most recent meeting: Saturday, March 3, 2018: Saints 25 Sale Sharks 34 (Premiership)

Tom's preview: There's nothing quite like a trip to the AJ Bell Stadium to bring you back down to earth.

And while Saints will have to ensure their swagger stays in place from last weekend's win at Wasps, it will be their substance that is truly tested by Sale Sharks on Saturday.

Because Steve Diamond's side never shy away from a scrap, and they are a strong side on home soil.

Both of their league wins this season have come at the AJ Bell Stadium and with a star-studded back line at their disposal, they will be in confident mood on Saturday.

That belief will only have been bolstered by their narrow defeat at Saracens last weekend and the presence of players such as Faf de Klerk and James O'Connor gives them a real edge.

But Wasps had plenty of attacking talent in their team last weekend and Saints shut the door on them with a defiant defensive display to record an impressive win.

The same, and more, will be needed up north this weekend, but Saints will have plenty of confidence of their own thanks to the way they swatted Wasps.

Their attacking game clicked and their defensive ability was shown as the blend of youngsters and senior stars proved to be potent.

The beneficial experiences just keep coming for the black, green and gold's young guns, and a trip to Sale will truly show what they are made of.

Saints have had some tough days at the AJ Bell Stadium in years gone by, and they will not be expecting to be given an inch by a forward pack mentored by Dorian West.

However, Saints have the quality up front to deal with that, and they must more than match their opponents in the power struggle if they are to come away with a positive result.

Because if the likes of de Klerk, O'Connor and Denny Solomona are allowed to get on the front foot, they can wreak havoc.

The Sharks ran riot for a time at Franklin's Gardens back in March, making Saints wish they hadn't bothered getting the game on amid heavy snowfall.

But this is a new Northampton team with a new mentality.

And they will relish facing their former forwards coach, West, this weekend.

It might not be pretty, but it will certainly be full of intrigue.

And Saints will again need to be at their best if they are to avoid one of those traditional AJ Bell Shark bites.

Tom's prediction: Sale 20 Saints 14