Sharks' lack of bite to cost them against Northampton
Relegation strugglers Sale Sharks host Northampton Saints in Sunday's live Guinness Premiership match at Edgeley Park. The sides are at opposite ends of the table and need the win for very different reasons.
The Sharks (13/10 to win the match) are completely out of form as they have lost seven consecutive matches in all competitions and are in real danger of being relegated as they are level on points with bottom-of-the-table Leeds Carnegie.
Conversely Northampton (4/7) are bang in form and sit second in the table. They have lost just one of their last eight Premiership matches and come into this match on the back of an impressive East Midlands derby victory over Leicester last weekend.
Ahead of the match Sale are boosted by the return of six players from injury and Six Nations duty. They will need these six to perform well if they are to stand any chance of defeating Northampton.
Among the returning players is scrum-half Dwayne Peel. He was called up to Wales's squad after he recovered from injury but then was not even in the matchday squad for their match against France.
Therefore he has a point to prove to Warren Gatland and will be eager to show his undoubted talent against Northampton. Peel's half-back partnership with Charlie Hodgson will be all-important if Sale are to upset the odds.
The problem Sale have though is they don't score enough tries. This season in the Premiership they have amassed just 14 tries, the third lowest in the league. On the other hand Sunday's opponents, Northampton, have notched up the second most with 30.
This is where the key difference is as Sale are unable to match Northampton's attacking ability. As a consequence I would look past the 4/7 about an away victory and seek the better value on the handicap. It is 10/11 for Northampton to win with Sale having a three-point start.
I think that the Saints will actually win by a bit more than the three-point margin and like the look of 5/1 about them winning by 6-10 points.
On the sides' current form one might expect a bigger difference but on the two previous occasions the sides have met this season, the games have been close despite the fact both have ended in victories for Northampton.
The most recent meeting was on 29th January in the LV= Cup. That day the Saints won 20-14 at Edgeley Park. In the reverse Premiership fixture it was a narrow 21-16 home win at Franklin's Gardens, therefore one has to be careful not to overstate the gulf in class between the sides as it doesn't seem to result in a wide margin of victory.
Of course though if Chris Ashton continues his excellent try-scoring form then he has the ability to put the game way beyond Sale. He is priced at 10/11 to add to his league-high tally of 11 tries this season.
However I don't think the game will open up too much. So while you can expect another Northampton victory, thus sealing the Saints' first Premiership double over Sale since 1999/2000, it will be a hard-fought game and a relatively narrow away win.