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Preview: Exeter Chiefs v Sale Sharks

Preview: Exeter Chiefs v Sale Sharks

Despite a nasty schedule that has seen them play Northampton Saints, Wasps and Saracens in consecutive weeks, Exeter Chiefs stand on the cusp of their first Aviva Premiership Rugby semi-final.

And though dreams of the top four were more in hope than expectation at the start of the season, Jack Nowell has called on his side to make them become reality by beating Sale Sharks.

It could all come down to points difference on Saturday, with the Chiefs ahead of Saracens by virtue of a slender points difference while Leicester Tigers are just a point ahead in third place.

But it’s taken an incredible run from Exeter to even still be in contention – having beaten both Aviva Premiership
Rugby finalists, Saints and Saracens, over the last three weeks and coming back from behind to earn a losing bonus point at Wasps.

The Chiefs have only lost once at Sandy Park since mid-September in all competitions and Nowell believes the resilience they’ve shown makes them as good a bet as anyone to jump the final hurdle.

“These last few weeks have been tough for us, on paper it’s probably been the hardest schedule any team’s had to face,” he said.

“But I know Rob [Baxter] has always said to us that we have to be prepared to compete in these top games against the best players if we want to be winning more trophies in the future.

“I wasn’t involved last weekend but that’s exactly what we did against Saracens, on the road in a crucial game and the boys were unbelievable.

“The aim before this season was to get back into the top six, we wanted to be playing the likes of your Toulons and Clermonts away from home.

“But with the position we’re in now, we’re thinking about what else we can achieve in the Premiership and we’re excited to see how it all goes this weekend.”

Sale lock Nathan Hines will be joining the likes of Mark Cueto and Tom May in calling time on their playing careers this weekend and he’s determined to round off his one season with the Sharks on a positive note.

If Wasps slip up Sale could find their way back into the top six and a European Rugby Champions Cup spot for next season, but 39-year-old Hines says they can ill afford to think about what’s happening elsewhere.

“Everyone gets on which was a massive benefit when I arrived,” he said. “That made me feel comfortable and there’s such a good culture here.

“That’s probably why the likes of Mark Cueto stay so long because when you enjoy coming to work and you enjoy spending time with the blokes you play footy with then you want to hang around.

“We haven’t got the biggest squad or the most money but you can win your fair share of games with a good culture in the squad.

“(Wasps’ result) makes no difference to us really. If we look at London Irish and Wasps, I think that was a little bit of our downfall a little while ago when we thought ‘Win against Irish and Harlequins and we’re good for the top six’ instead of just worrying about what we need to do.

“That’s a bit of a lesson for us really, we can’t control what they do.”

Sandy Park, 3.30pm – Live on BT Sport

Referee: Wayne Barnes (155th Premiership game).
Assistant Referees: Roy Maybank and Roger Baileff. TMO: Geoff Warren.

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