Live on BT Sport, Sale travel to the Twickenham Stoop to face Harlequins, looking to continue their fine form from last week's decisive 36-8 win over London Irish. Here's three things to keep an eye on:
How do Harlequins fare without their international players?
On Friday night Harlequins will be without the services of a quintet of key first team players; Joe Marler, Chris Robshaw, Marland Yarde and Mike Brown are all with England on international duty whilst winger Asaeli Tikoirotuma is also away with Fiji. A massive boost for Sale, who's own international absentees do not match Quins' in either number or prestige, Harlequins are without key squad members across the entire team; front-row, back-row, back-three etc. presenting Sale with a fantastic opportunity to snatch a win at the Stoop. However Quins impressed last week beating Gloucester 22-15 without all the aforementioned players and with Danny Care having been released back to the squad and named on the replacements bench they will not be a walkover for a Sale side looking to record their first away win of the season.
Will the rolling maul be as destructive as last week?
Having the ascendancy at the scrum is a critical measure of all rugby games not just because of the way Sale are structured to play and it will be pivotal as to whose sets of forwards can establish control throughout tonight's game. Last week, Sale's tactic of the rolling maul was the key reason for the Sharks' victory (it contributed to four of Sale's five tries) and Quins will hope to put up a much more productive defence against it than Irish did. If however Sale can get it rolling (pun intended) again, it should offer Sale a strong platform to win the game. If not however, it will be interesting to see if Sale can match Harlequins free-flowing backs play as they attempt to find other ways to break through the Quins defence. I would think having Danny Cipriani back in the fold should mean we should hopefully not see a repeat of the Leicester debacle two weeks ago.
Can Sale record their first Premiership victory at the Stoop since May 2008?
Harlequins, especially at home at the Twickenham Stoop, have been something of a bogey team for Sale in recent years, with us having to look back to a 23-16 triumph in May 2008 for Sale' last win over Harlequins on their home turf (in the Premiership). To put it in perspective, that was seven seasons ago. Seven. With Quins missing so many key members of their squad, Sale's first-team largely injury free and only missing Chris Cusiter and Johnny Leota to their respective national teams, this is most likely Sale's best chance in six years to finally defeat Quins in front of their own fans. More importantly, if Sale's aspirations of reaching the top-six for a third time in four seasons are to be realistic, games against weakened fellow top-six sides like Quins tonight have to be won especially after a slow start to the season.
How about this; FOURTY out of a possible forty-six players between both teams tonight are either English or English qualified. That, professional football, is what the Premier League et al. should be aspiring to.
Prediction: Harlequins 16-12 Sale Sharks