Coming off a trio of wins in the Premiership, Sale's focus now turns again to the European Rugby Champions Cup as they face Saracens in Round 3 of the competition in the first of a home-and-home series against the Fez heads. Here's three things to keep a look out for:
1) How's the attendance?
Sale's largest gate of the season was their last home game in the ERCC against Munster coming in at just under 10,000 attendees, albeit helped significantly by the 3,000 or travelling Irish fans. Without such rapid away support, how many will Sale be able to pull in for another game in Europe's top club competition. If top-level European rugby isn't enough to draw fans in, what is?
2) How will Sale cope with their mounting injury list?
As we are all well aware of, Sale are a small club with a small playing squad. And for clubs such as ours, injuries can derail a season in a blink of an eye. In the last two weeks Sale have lost Tom Arscott, Dave Seymour, Michael Paterson and Alberto Di Marchi - four key members of the Sale first choice 23 to add to the continued absences of Nathan Hines and Tommy Taylor. Those injuries plus rests for Dan Braid and Johnny Leota were always going to put Sale under the cosh against Saracens but will getting through this game without adding another Shark to the treatment table be enough to comprise a moral victory for Sale regardless of Saturday's scoreline?
3) Will Addison is back!
An injury-riddled start to the season had kept Will Addison out of contention for nearly all of Sale's first 10 or so games this season and a string of impressive performances from both Mark Jennings and Andy Forsyth has allowed Steve Diamond the luxury of not having to rush Addison back into the match day 23. But with Addison now back to full fitness and Mark Jennings starting at 13, Addison has found himself a spot on the bench for tomorrow's game. The optimist in me says this will finally be the beginning of Addison's ascent into a first-choice team member week-in, week-out for Sale (he certainly has the talent) but the realist side is anxiously watching every collision and tackle Addison goes into fearing we will see Addison stretched off the field for seemingly the umpteenth time in three-ish seasons. Look for him to get 15 minutes off the bench and possibly at wing where both Luke McLean and Mark Cueto (tomorrow's incumbent wingers) have both flattered to deceive so far this season.
Prediction: Sale 14 - Saracens 30
Injuries to key Sale players along with the selection of a powerhouse Saracens squad should unfortunately mean tomorrow will be the end of Sale's European adventure with chances of qualification to the latter rounds eliminated with a loss. That being said, I never expected us to get anywhere close to Munster so maybe my pessimism is mis-placed. Here's hoping. See you at the game.