Preview: Sale v Northampton

Date published: March 21 2014

Premiership leaders Northampton Saints welcome back their Six Nations contingent for Saturday's clash with Sale in Salford.

Premiership table-toppers Northampton Saints welcome back their Six Nations contingent for Saturday's clash with Sale at the AJ Bell Stadium.

The game will be Sharks first at home since the narrow defeat to Saracens in mid February. Since then the team have won at both Worcester and Wasps.

Northampton are the form team in the Premiership although they lost in the LV=Cup Final to Exeter last weekend.

Saturday's clash will be the first of a double header, as the two sides will meet again on April 3 in the Amlin Challenge Cup quarter final.

Former Sale coach Jim Mallinder will be hoping to get one over on his former club, in a fixture which Sale haven't won since 2011.

Last year's beaten Premiership finalists Northampton have lost just one game all season, falling to a narrow 26-24 defeat against Gloucester back in September in a controversial ending.

The visitors have scored a whopping 50 tries already this season, with a feature of their game a strong rolling maul.

That said, Sale have also seen much success from their own mauls, with Dan Braid more often than not the beneficiary.

The New Zealander is not only in form on the try scoring count though, as statistics show he is one of the top tacklers and ball carriers in the squad. Braid has made 154 successful tackles already this season, whilst also clocking up 110 carries, just ten less than teammate Mark Cueto.

A win on Saturday would put Sale Sharks right in the mix for a play-off spot.

Meanwhile, Northampton have made seven changes have been made to the team which began last Sunday's LV= Cup final, with all the club's half-dozen returning Six Nations internationals coming into the starting XV along with Stephen Myler, who was a late withdrawal in Exeter.

Luther Burrell returns at inside centre, where he partners James Wilson, and with George North coming onto the left wing Jamie Elliott switches to the right flank.

Samu Manoa's absence on international duty with the USA in Uruguay means that Courtney Lawes partners Christian Day in the second row, with GJ Van Velze continuing at number eight.

Form: The Sharks currently find themselves sixth in the table and with six rounds to go the team have set themselves a platform to launch an attack on the top four. Northampton arrive at the AJ Bell Stadium in good spirits having won their last 11 Aviva Premiership matches since drawing 19-19 with Leicester in October – this their best-ever winning run. The Sharks have also only won one of their last ten encounters with Northampton in all competitions – 29-21 at Edgeley Park in the Aviva Premiership in September 2011 – but Saints prop Tom Mercey is taking nothing for granted.

The teams:

Sale Sharks: 15 Tom Arscott, 14 Tom Brady, 13 Jonny Leota, 12 Sammy Tuitupou, 11 Mark Cueto, 10 Danny Cipriani, 9 Dwayne Peel, 8 James Gaskell 7 David Seymour, 6 Dan Braid, 5 Michael Paterson, 4 Jonathan Mills, 3 Vadim Cobilas, 2 Marc Jones, 1 Eifion Lewis-Roberts.
Replacements: 16 Aston Croall, 17 Ross Harrison, 18 Henry Thomas, 19 Andrei Ostrikov, 20 Mark Easter, 21 Will Cliff, 22 Nick Macleod, 23 Rob Miller

Northampton: 15 Ben Foden, 14 Jamie Elliott, 13 James Wilson, 12 Luther Burrell, 11 George North, 10 Stephen Myler, 9 Lee Dickson, 8 GJ van Velze, 7 Tom Wood, 6 Calum Clark, 5 Christian Day, 4 Courtney Lawes, 3 Salesi Ma'afu, 2 Dylan Hartley (c), 1 Alex Waller.
Replacements: 16 Mike Haywood, 17 Gareth Denman, 18 Tom Mercey, 19 James Craig, 20 Phil Dowson, 21 Kahn Fotuali'i, 22 Will Hooley, 23 George Pisi.

Date: Saturday, March 22
Venue: AJ Bell Stadium
Kickoff: 14:00 GMT
Referee: Luke Pearce
Assistant Referees: Paul Burton, Kelvin Stewart
TMO: Keith Lewis