Sale Sharks v Exeter Chiefs Premiership Preview

Sale Sharks host Bath Rugby at the Salford City (AJ Bell) Stadium

Exeter Chiefs Boss Rob Baxter has made one change to his team for this weekend’s Aviva Premiership match against Sale Sharks at the AJ Bell Stadium.

In their last outing Exeter were edged by Saracens but Baxter insists confidence within the Exeter Chiefs camp remains high.

The Devon club saw their 13-month long unbeaten home record finally ended as Charlie Hodgson’s late penalty ensured the defending champions of a 14-11 success at Sandy Park.

Tomorrow, the Chiefs have the chance to put things right at the first attempt when they travel to the AJ Bell Stadium to face an in-form Sale Sharks.

Like Baxter’s side, the Sharks have been impressive on home soil and you have to go all the way back to April to register their last loss at the Manchester venue.

Add into the mix that Steve Diamond’s head into this latest tussle buoyed by a first win at Leicester Tigers in eight years and it makes for a testing away-day for the second-placed Chiefs.

“It’s always a tough place to go as Sale play well at home,” warned Baxter.

“They have a good home record and they come into this weekend having just beaten Leicester at Welford Road.

“That said, our focus is more on ourselves and the fact that we are a team in good form ourselves. We’re playing well and just because we lost at the weekend, it should not dent our confidence because we know if we play well, good things tend to happen.”

Although disappointed to lose to Sarries, Baxter has stressed his side remain in a highly promising position in the Premiership and has urged his players to use that loss as motivation to return to winning ways.

“If any of the players are walking around now feeling a bit meek and mild and feeling a bit sorry for themselves then they will be the guys who get the rocket from me,” he added.

“That is because we are five points off the lead halfway through a Premiership season and we have worked extremely hard to get where we are.

“There are a lot of positives, so what I expect is for us to push on now and look to enjoy the second half of the season as we have the first half.

“You don’t panic after results like Sunday’s, you learn from them. I’m expecting the boys to train hard this week and give themselves every opportunity to win up at Sale this weekend.

“It is important in its own right as a Premiership game of rugby and we have to prepare well for it, but it is not make-or-break time. Seasons don’t come down to make-or-break times, they are about how you train and how you perform on a regular basis because things iron themselves out over the course of a season.”

Having already defeated the Sharks 33-17 at Sandy Park back on Boxing Day, the Chiefs will be looking to record their first league double of the season this weekend.

Although Baxter says that festive meeting between the two clubs doesn’t really come into his thinking this weekend.

“As I said, our focus is primarily on ourselves and what we do. We know it will be tough and Sale have a good home record. For us, though, we know we’re in for a fight and that we will have to lay a lot of energy down on the pitch.

“That, however, is a given for any Premiership game. We have to be prepared to go up there and work hard because if we don’t, then we should even entertain any idea of coming away from there with any points.”

With Six Nations call-ups again robbing Baxter of the services of Jack Nowell (England), Michele Campagnaro (Italy) and Tomas Francis (Wales), he sticks with a largely unchanged match-day squad for tomorrow’s game.

The sole change in the starting line-up sees Jonny Hill recalled to the second row alongside the experienced Geoff Parling with Ollie Atkins dropping down to the bench at the expense of Lewis Stevenson.

Otherwise, the Chiefs parade the same personnel that were on show last Sunday against Saracens.

Sale Sharks have won their last five encounters in all tournaments since their 17-33 defeat at Exeter in round 7 of Aviva Premiership Rugby.

The Sharks are unbeaten in their last nine fixtures at AJ Bell Stadium in all tournaments since Harlequins beat them there last April in Premiership Rugby.

Exeter Chiefs suffered a first defeat at Sandy Park for over 12 months when Saracens were the visitors on Sunday, however away from home in Aviva Premiership Rugby their only defeat in their last four trips was 3-8 at Northampton in round 8.

The last three encounters between the two clubs have all gone the way of home field advantage whilst the Chiefs have played on three previous occasions at AJ Bell Stadium, winning once in 2013 and gaining two losing bonus points in the others.

Meanwhile Sale’s Director of Rugby Steve Diamond has had to make changes to the side which beat Leicester Tigers.

Johnny Leota comes into the starting XV to replace Sam Tuitupou, and Peter Stringer starts at scrum-half with Chris Cusiter moving to the bench.

Mark Easter replaces Josh Beaumont who is away with England; Mark starts at Number 8. David Seymour, who signed a new two year deal earlier this week, starts at flanker and captains the side. Magnus Lund is named among the replacements.

Speaking ahead of the game, Diamond said: “We’ve got to step it up another level. They are a top side. We know they don’t make many mistakes, and they are good at what they do. “”

Therefore, we’ve got to be better than them in all areas. I think it’ll be a tight game, and a good game to watch, by the look of it, the weather looks good for Saturday so hopefully that should make for a good game.”

Match : Sale Sharks v Exeter Chiefs
Date : Saturday 13 February
Venue : AJ Bell Stadium,
Kick Off : 2.30pm
Live on: N.A
Match Officials
Referee : Andrew Small (121st Premiership game).
Assistant Referees: Paul Dix & Robin Goodliffe.
TMO: Geoff Warren.

Teams

Sale Sharks

15. Mike Haley, 14. Will Addison, 13. Sam James, 12. Johnny Leota, 11. Nev Edwards, 10. Danny Cipriani, 9. Peter Stringer, 1. Ross Harrison, 2. Tommy Taylor, 3. Vadim Cobilas, 4. Bryn Evans, 5. Andrei Ostrikov, 6. Cameron Neild, 7. David Seymour (captain), 8. Mark Easter

Replacements: 16. Neil Briggs, 17. Eifion Lewis-Roberts, 18. Brian Mujati, 19. Jonathan Mills, 20. Magnus Lund, 21. Chris Cusiter, 22. Joe Ford, 23. Tom Arscott

Exeter Chiefs

15 Phil Dollman , 14 Olly Woodburn , 13 Ian Whitten , 12 Sam Hill , 11 James Short , 10 Gareth Steenson , 9 Will Chudley, 8 Thomas Waldrom , 7 Julian Salvi , 6 Don Armand , 5 Geoff Parling , 4 Jonny Hill, 3 Moray Low, 2 Jack Yeandle (capt) ,1 Ben Moon

Replacements : 16 Luke Cowan-Dickie , 17 Alec Hepburn , 18 Harry Williams , 19 Ollie Atkins , 20 Kai Horstmann , 21 Dave Lewis , 22 Will Hooley , 23 Max Bodilly

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