Sale Sharks centre Sam Tuitupou insists the club are no longer looking over their shoulders at the dreaded drop from the Aviva Premiership and instead it’s onwards and upwards for the remainder of the season.
A bonus point-win against London Irish at the Madejski Stadium this weekend will see Sale move level on points with the Exiles in tenth position in the table.
After spending so long at the foot of the Aviva Premiership this season; a combination of a point’s deduction for London Welsh for fielding an ineligible player, coupled with two league wins in March against Bath Rugby and Saracens have seen the Sharks build some much-needed breathing space in their fight against relegation.
Sale recorded a fifth victory of the campaign, 14-13 at home to Bath, last time out but the Sharks face a big test at the Madejski Stadium, having only recorded one away victory in the competition this season; that was 26-25 over London Welsh at Oxford in round 15.
The Sharks won 21-9 when the two sides met at Salford City Stadium in round 8; but they have not completed a league double over London Irish since season 2005/06 – their most recent win at Madejski Stadium was in October 2006.
But Tuitupou remains confident Sale Sharks have finally turned a corner in the Aviva Premiership, saying: “After a win we’re always quite positive but also it gives us a bit of breathing space between us and London Welsh and makes us more confident going into London Irish, so if we can do a job there we can go clear and start looking up rather than down the table.
“Irish are quite similar to us – they’ve got the players to play well and on their day they can beat any team.
“But obviously Irish are a type of team we enjoy playing because they like to play and that suits us in defence so hopefully like the last time we played them we can play to our strengths, wear them down and get the win – the boys are quite confident.
“We’ve struggled this year and we’ve had a few things interrupting our season with coaching staff and players coming and going and suffering injuries, and we’ve had a few decisions not go our way and it’s cost us the game.
“At the moment we’ve got good balance and like I said, things haven’t been going our way but hopefully in these next four weeks coming we can get some wins under our belts starting at London Irish.”
Meanwhile, Pat Phibbs is convinced London Irish’s impressive forwards have the power to drive the club to safety in the cold weather.
The 31-year-old scrum-half insists the club have to play to their strengths and paid tribute to the pack for steamrollering Irish to a 26-6 win over Worcester Warriors in the St Patrick’s Party game last Saturday.
He said: “We just had to grind it out and play the conditions.
“As much as we wanted to throw the ball around and please the crowd, the position we are in, we have to win games.
“What was working was playing through the forwards. We have to take those points when they are on hand.
“Our forwards really fronted up and made it easier for the rest of us and it was terrific to be back playing at home and getting a win.
“We have been playing some good footy at Madejski Stadium and we are building a bit of a reputation here.”
Referee: Greg Garner (47th Premiership game)
Assistant Referees: Paul Burton & Andrew Watson. TMO: Graham Hughes.