Sale finally return to Premiership action on Sunday as they head down to Oxford to play a still winless (not) London Welsh at 1pm. Three things to watch out for:
Nick MacLeod starts at Fly-Half
With incumbent fly-half Danny Cipriani on the England bench for a second consecutive week, Steve Diamond is faced this week with the rare problem of not having his starting 10 available for a Premiership game. In Cipriani's absence, Dimes has opted for Nick MacLeod to start over Joe Ford - a move I'm fully in favour of. Whilst nowhere near the calibre of player Cipriani is, MacLeod is a steady game-manager whose experience and access to a first-choice Sale backline should see the Sharks able to still effectively implement their gameplan against Welsh. Whilst Joe Ford, in this commentator's opinion, has been left largely hung out to dry when given first team opportunities, often playing with a retreating back and a second-choice backline, he has still been unable to flash much potential as a creative playmaker in the Sale team. MacLeod is not exactly that either, but in his appearances, especially away against Munster, he has shown a better ability to engage his backline and incorporate his fellow players in attack. His individual defence and tackling is superior to Ford's as well. However none of this is likely to matter as..
Sale's gameplan will revolve around their pack
With an obvious advantage amongst the forwards in both scrummaging and breakdown ability look for Sale's entire possession game on Sunday to revolve around their pack. Especially now that they're missing Cipriani, Sale will look early and often to utilising their advantage at the scrum as a low-risk way to establish dominance and record points. They did it in the corresponding fixture against Welsh at the AJ Bell in September, then did it two weeks later at home to London Irish both of which were bonus point wins. Furthermore their monumental victory over Northampton a month ago was because of Sale's overpowering of the Saints' pack throughout. Sale will have marked this game as a potential banana skin, so look for them to play a tight and compact game to stress their forward's advantage from the get-go.
Tommy Taylor replaces Marc Jones at Hooker
Fully fit after spending the last few weeks rehabilitating a knee ligament injury sustained playing for England Saxons last June, Tommy Taylor is set to make his first Premiership start of the season on Sunday. Perhaps a little unfair on Marc Jones whose magnificent ironman-like performances this season have won universal acclaim, it is clear that Diamond will be using the rest of the current season to look towards next season where Taylor will graduate to starting hooker with Jones' departure to Bristol. Both Sale coaches Steve Diamond and Pete Angelsea have spoken highly of Taylor's return to first-team duty noting that they have observed him as being a stronger and smarter rugby player since his inury and Sunday will see just how secure Sale's hooking future is with Taylor at the helm.
Prediction: London Welsh 10 - Sale Sharks 31
Perhaps a little harsh on London Welsh who week-by-week have come closer to finally recording their first Premiership victory of the season, Sale will have come into this game very prepared for another trap game against the Oxford-based outfit and will look to dominate the set-piece for the entire game. I'm predicting Sunday's game not to be one for the ages but more a suffocating performance by the Sale pack who should lead Sale to victory, Cipriani or not. I'm also predicting Tom Arscott to continue his hot run of form by touching down at least once against his former team.