After a hard-fought but well-deserved win over the (now) nomadic Wasps last weekend, Sale face an even greater challenge on Saturday as they face defending Premiership champions Northampton Saints at Franklin's Gardens. Here's three things to watch out for:
1) How does Josh Beaumont fare in his first start for Sale in over a year?
Ironically, earlier on this week I found myself thinking about Josh Beaumont and how he fits into Sale's plans going forward. An academy product that spent time with both Newcastle and Flyde before Sale, Beaumont is now 22 and is reaching the end of the "development" cycle attributed with academy prospects. Last year's season-ending injury was an obvious set back to his developemtn but now Beaumont is back to full fitness it is now time to see if he has what it takes to forge a place in the Sale 23. Beaumont has been afforded that opportunity this week, as he is the solitary change to the starting XV against Wasps replacing Jonathan Mills at Lock as Michael Paterson's Second Row partner. With Nathan Hines' tendon injury set to keep the Scot out until after Christmas, Jonathan Mills' ineffectual form to start the season and Andrei Ostrikov in Montevideo with Russia as they compete in the second leg of a Rugby World Cup Qualifier against Uruguay, Beaumont has been given the ultimate "sink-or-swim" test against the reigning champions and their fearsome pack. A solid performance from Beaumont against the likes of Courtney Lawes and Tom Wood would certainly put his name into contention for a starting place, and considering his potential, youth and the prestigious rugby stock from which he comes, it would be a welcome sight to see Beaumont cement his place long-term at the heart of Sale's pack. And no more of this No.8 business, he's a lock, Diamond.
2) Has Sale's set piece improved from last week?
The restoration of Ross Harrison and Vadim Cobilas as starting props along with the return of Marc Jones at Hooker helped steady Sale's under performing pack to a degree against Wasps last week, although as the game progressed and Wasps cleared their bench, there was a very evident shift in ascendency to the visitors, one that Sale were just about able to contain to help consolidate their lead and eventual win. Sale will come up against an even tougher test against Northampton's pack tomorrow, one that is arguably the most dominant in the league even without the likes of Dylan Hartley, Christian Day who start the game on the bench. Sale's set piece will have to be impeccable to ensure they do not repeat their deplorable performance against a similar strength Saracens "wolfpack" which simply steamrolled right over Sale's forwards en route to a 40-19 win. We saw improvement against Wasps for 60-odd minutes of the game, will they be better again on Saturday?
3) Is Dan Braid any decent as a pundit?
As many of you will know, the Sale-Northampton game tomorrow will be televised on BT Sport. Joining the usual line-up of Bayfield, Doyle and Healey is Sale's very own skipper Dan Braid serving as a pundit and analyist. Braid's "rugby brain" on the pitch is frequently observed by many of the Sale faithful and one would imagine he'll have plenty of insight to offer BT's customers. Here's hoping he is not too good at the role however; as part of his contract extension last season, Sale's head honcho Steve Diamond offered Braid a post-retirement coaching role at Sale, a position one would think Braid would excel at, so let's hope Braid does not excel too well as a pundit lest BT pinch him from any further involvement with Sale!
Sale: Luke McLean, Tom Brady, Jonny Leota, Mark Jennings, Tom Arscott, Danny Cipriani, Chris Cusiter, Ross Harrison, Marc Jones, Vadim Cobilas, Josh Beaumont, Michael Paterson, Magnus Lund, David Seymour (Captain), Mark Easter.
Bench: Cameron Neild, Alberto de Marchi, Eifion Lewis Roberts, Jonathan Mills, Viliami Fihaki, Will Cliff, Joe Ford, Andy Forsyth
Northampton: Ben FODEN, Ken PISI, George PISI, Luther BURRELL, Jamie ELLIOTT, Stephen MYLER, Lee DICKSON, Alex WALLER, Mike HAYWOOD, Salesi MA’AFU, Courtney LAWES, James CRAIG, Tom WOOD (capt), Jon FISHER, Samu MANOA
Bench: Dylan Hartley, Ethan Waller, Gareth Denman, Christian Day, Calum Clark, Kahn Fotuali'i, James Wilson, George North
Prediction: Northampton Saints 35 - 20 Sale Sharks.