Sale look to bounce back from an absolute thumping last weekend against Wasps as they welcome reigning champions Northampton Saints to the AJ Bell hoping for a repeat of their 19-6 triumph in this fixture last year. Here's three things to keep an eye out for:
Sale's newest Shark, TJ Ioane
Arrived in Manchester Monday, announced Wednesday and straight into the team on Saturday, Sale's newest recruit Samoan TJ Ioane starts on the bench against Northampton. Sale, this season, have been a team in dire need of a ball-carrying forward to supplement Josh Beaumont's burgeoning skill in that area as well as an impact sub who can come off the bench and play at as high a level as those he's replacing. TJ Ioane looks to fill both roles nicely for Sale. Against a team as deep and talented as Northampton, Sale will need to make full use of their bench if they hope to secure a victory so Ioane's immediate inclusion is not a surprise. With both he and David Seymour selected onto the bench instead of the customary second rower and a back rower combination, look for Josh Beaumont to move to Lock as the game progresses and Ioane to make his debut for Sale at No.8
Can Danny Cipriani finally out-duel Stephen Myler for an England place?
With England's squad for the Six Nations set to be announced on January 21st and Stuart Lancaster likely to once again be in attendance at the AJ Bell, Saturday's game against Northampton and indeed fellow England fly-half Stephen Myler might well be Danny Cipriani's last chance to prove he deserves a place in the next EPS team. Lancaster controversially preferred Myler over Cipriani in England's squad for the autumn internationals to the ire of many and with Cipriani's well-publicised future dependent upon international selection, how he performs against Myler and Saints may very well dictate where his future in club rugby lies. An exemplary performance might finally allow Cipriani to pip Myler for that elusive third England Fly-Half spot whilst a below-par showing could well be the final nail in Cipriani's England career and seal a potential move to Toulon at the end of the season.
How will the packs compare?
Continuing their dominating run of form into this season that saw them win the Premiership title last season, Northampton come this game as current Premiership leaders and for all intents and purposes, the best team in England. However Sale have caught a slight break in regards to Saints' options for this game. Northampton are without three influential figures in their scrum - Captain Dylan Hartley is suspended, first choice second rowers Courtney Lawes and Christian Day miss out through injury whilst No.8 and the best forward in England currently, Samu Manoa, misses out on compassionate leave after the death of his brother. With a backline as dangerous as the one Saints possess, the injuries in their forwards could possibly swing the game in Sale's favour as Sharks - missing only Michael Paterson from their first choice pack - look to target the forwards as an area to establish dominance. That is very much easier said than done however especially since Saints still have the likes of Salesi Ma'afu, Callum Clark, Tom Wood and a returning Alex Corbisiero at their disposal. How the packs weigh up come scrum-time and at the line-out will have a major influence on how this game turns out but Sale will rest a little easier knowing Saints are missing such key players.
Prediction: Sale Sharks 22 - 17 Northampton Saints
Sale are desperate for a win having lost both of their last two games in humiliating fashion but with home advantage, the return of Dan Braid and Sam Tuitupou, much more impact coming off the bench and Saints missing some key forwards, I'm going to be cautiously optimistic and predict a close victory for Sale.