Sale will finish their 2014/15 season with a trip to Sandy Park tomorrow as part of #SuperSaturday (lame Premiership Rugby - this isn't football) hoping to replicate their surprise 55-12 win over Chiefs when they last visited Exeter in April 2014. Whilst a repeat of that result is highly unlikely given Exeter's excellent form this year and their play-off aspirations which coincidentally hang in the balance pending their result against the Sharks, the 2014/15 season has been anything but predictable for Sale and with a near-full strength squad announced, this is a game that could go either way. For the last time this season, here are three things to look out for when Exeter and Sale take the field:
Tom Arscott Matching Up Against Jack Nowell
One of two key positional matchups I am highlighting for consideration as key for Saturday's game is that between Tom Arscott who retains his place in the Sale starting lineup at fullback for a second consecutive week and Jack Nowell who's oft-praised versatilely sees Rob Baxter employing him at the same position. Arscott proved his naysayers (i.e. me) wrong last week with an outstanding all-round performance against Newcastle in his first start at fullback since the end of the 2013/14 season and he will have to replicate that lightnining-in-a-bottle performance against the mercurial talents of England international Nowell. Despite adding the role of Outside Centre to his already considerable talents this season, Nowell remains one of the premier fullbacks in England with a great turn of pace, ability in the air and an eye for a defensive gap and how he and Arscott match up against each other could be critical to the outcome of the game, especially if the weather doesn't hold and it becomes something of a kicking contest.
Josh Beaumont vs. Thomas Waldrom
Two of the form No.8s in the Premiership this season, the second crucial battle on Saturday afternoon will come down to Josh Beaumont and Thomas Waldrom. Waldrom has been in astronomical form this season with a series of performances in his inaugural season in Devon pushing him back into England consideration, and a try on Saturday would see him eclipse Neil Back's single-season Premiership record of 16 tries for a forward. Although not as prolific as Waldrom in front of the try-line this season, Beaumont has been in equally impressive form for Sale, taking over as lineout captain in Michael Paterson's injury-enforced absence and putting in a series of Man-of-the-Match performances including last week against Newcastle where his line breaks helped set up two of Sale's five tries. As with Arscott/Nowell, whoever of the two backrowers can stamp their authority across the game could dictate who emerges victorious on Saturday.
Will Sale have an impact on the play-off race?
Whilst Sale's fleeting play-off hopes were dashed months ago, Sale still have a chance to play spoiler in this year's race for the play-offs. Going into #SuperSaturday (....) Leicester, Exeter and Saracens sit on 64, 63 and 63 points respectively with the final two play-off positions up for grabs. With all games in the season's final round being played simultaneously, whilst Exeter and Sale meet at Sandy Park, Leicester face a weakened Northampton side already assured of a spot in the 'final four' and Saracens are away to relegated London Welsh. With conventional wisdom suggesting Tigers and Sarries will pick up wins in their games, Sale have a huge chance to hinder their Saturday opponents' chances of making it into the play-offs by securing another surprise away victory.
Prediction: Exeter Chiefs 32 - 27 Sale Sharks
Exeter have it all to play for Saturday and will look to secure a big victory to guarantee their inclusion in this season's play-offs. Sale still have slim hopes of making the top-six should other results go their way and they too will come out all guns blazing if only to send off Mark Cueto, Nathan Hines and others on a high. However Exeter's free-flowing game is much better suited for Saturday's predicted sunny forecast and their talented backline and back row should outshine Sale's especially with Will Addison, TJ Ioane and Magnus Lund unavailable. It will be close but the Chiefs should prevail.