Rugby Union: Exeter Chiefs v Sale Sharks Preview

The outcome of the game at Sandy Park is of importance to both clubs as only four points separate Exeter Chiefs and Sale Sharks, both of whom are in with a good chance of making the semi-finals of the competition in the summer.

Taking into account recent results in the Premiership and the strength of the teams, you’d expect an even contest with Exeter having the advantage because they’re at home.

The Chiefs are in decent form currently having won their last three games – beating Gloucester 24-15, Newcastle Falcons 15-14 and Northampton Saints 34-31.

One significant feature of the Exeter side is their stubborn defence which Sale may have difficulty smashing – the Chiefs are fortunate to possess one of the best records in the league, having conceded only 38 tries in 17 matches, and given that Sale like to attack, that defence will be put under much pressure on Sunday.

The Chiefs’ captain and fly half, Joe Simmonds, is in top class form, so Sale need to show discipline otherwise his accurate goal kicking will punish the Sharks as Northampton found out to their cost last weekend – Simmonds helping to win the game with four conversions and two penalties.

You’d fancy putting money on Exeter to win on Sunday, but their opponents are also enjoying a successful run – Sale are unbeaten in their previous five Premiership games – winning four against Leicester Tigers, Harlequins, Worcester Warriors and Northampton Saints, and drawing 27-27 against London Irish.

So, the Manchester club, who’ve won their last two away league games, can be full of confidence, and team boss, Alex Sanderson, would have every right to be disappointed if the Sharks didn’t travel back North without any points at all.

His scrum half, World Cup winner Faf de Klerk, is back to his best, and the number nine’s kicking game, combined with the South African’s running and passing, can cause havoc for Exeter who won 25-15 at the AJ Bell Stadium in the first Premiership meeting back in October.

Sandy Park, capacity of more than 13,000, is then all set for what should be an entertaining contest – going into the game, Exeter have won 10 of their 17 matches while Sale have eight victories in 17.

Injury blow for Exeter & England as Cowan-Dickie ruled out

Meanwhile as Exeter Director of Rugby, Rob Baxter, steps up his efforts to play in the top four, he’ll have to do without his first-choice hooker, Luke Cowan-Dickie, who was injured last week in the England and Wales Six Nations game at Twickenham.

The hooker has damaged his knee ligaments, requiring an operation, and may be absent for the rest of the campaign, and Baxter says that it’s far too early to predict if Cowan-Dickie will have recovered in time for the play-offs, if the Chiefs reach that stage.

This set-back for Exeter means continuing opportunities for hookers Jack Innard and Jack Yeandle, both of whom can be guaranteed to show total commitment.