What is a reasonable result to expect for Sale?
Saracens are, in this writer's opinion, quite simply the best team English rugby currently has to offer. Yes Northampton Saints may have emerged triumphant in overtime against the London-based team in last season's dramatic Aviva Premiership final but Saracens as a collective are the deepest, most clinical and disciplined team in England; possibly Europe. Playing Saracens is always a monumental test for any team let alone Sale as there is very little margin for error in any area, because Saracens are so very good at punishing every little mistake conceded. You have to look no further than Sarries' 39-0 drubbing of Harlequins at the Twickenham Stoop earlier this month for evidence of that; Saracens played simple but clinical and most importantly defensively rigid rugby that resulted in Saracens scoring points with every ingress they made into Quins' half. Nothing flashy just a very opportunistic gameplan from Mark McCall's men who in the end dispatched Harlequins with relative ease and Sale must be well aware of how dangerous Saracens can be when given any sliver of a chance to score. With all that taken into account a repeat of Sale's 24-19 defeat in the corresponding fixture last year at Allianz Park which resulted in a losing bonus point for Sale would be, in my opinion, a satisfactory result. Of course I expect to see Sale go all out and give it their all and hopefully secure a win but I have tempered my expectations when considering just how strong a team Saracens are. A win in any capacity would be a fantastic result but Sale had such a successful campaign last season because they were able to travel to top-four and top-six sides like Saracens and consistently pick up at least a commiserative losing bonus point so if a similar result comes from Saturday's game, I won't be too disappointed.
How can Sale win?
I have already underlined just how a strong team Saracens are but their early season form, more specifically their narrow victories over London Irish and Wasps respectively, have shown that they are beatable if the appropriate gameplan is implemented. I am oversimplifying it obviously but Saracens' strength is building a lead against their opponents and forcing them to challenge their airtight defence, so the key for Sale is to score first and force Saracens to play catchup. Sale did it when they were beaten last year at the Allianz as did London Irish and Wasps and in all three cases it led to an incredibly open and competitive game - exactly what Saracens are not suited for. Saracens showed their quality in coming back to win in all three of the mentioned instances but Sale's best chance at beating them on Saturday comes down to forcing Saracens out of their comfort zone with a fast start like what we saw at Gloucester and the strong second-half defensive and decisive counter-attacking performance Sale employed last week against London Welsh.
Can Sale keep up their free-flowing attacking performances against the stingiest defence in the league?
For a Union fan used to seeing a solitary try apiece on my ventures up to the AJ Bell stadium; Sale's try-scoring prowess so far this season has been nothing sort of revolutionary. Scoring twice against Bath, four against Gloucester and then another six against London Welsh, Sale have scored twelve tries in only three games this season and are averaging four a game in 2014-15 (I did not need Opta Sports to work that one out). Whilst Saracens have not been as defensively tight this year as they have known to be in seasons past (the Quins game excluded) they shipped four and three to Irish and Wasps respectively, a record that should make for a tasty encounter on Saturday. Tom Arscott has been electric for Sale but with Mark Cueto close to full fitness will he keep his place? Will Luke McLean's improving form with each round continue? Will the Pacific Islander combination of Sam Tuitupou and Johnny Leota be reunited or will the impressive Mark Jennings get another chance at Outside Centre with Will Addison rules out with injury? And most importantly will whatever combination of backs Sale utilise on Saturday bear fruit against a Saracens backline that could possibly feature England Internationals Brad Barritt, Alex Goode, Chris Ashton, Owen Farrell and Sale old boys Richard Wigglesworth and Charlie Hodgson? We will find out in less than 48 hours.