Exeter Chiefs travel north looking to end Sale’s nine-match home unbeaten streak and despite a convincing 33-17 win against the Sharks in December, Don Armand insists the Chiefs must avoid complacency.
An 18-11 loss to Sale last season at the AJ Bell Stadium precipitated a run of poor form for the Chiefs and following their first Sandy Park loss in over a year against Saracens, they will be looking to avoid a repeat on Saturday.
Despite slipping up against Saracens, five places separate second-placed Exeter from Steve Diamond’s men, but with an in-form Danny Cipriani marshalling proceedings from fly-half, the Sharks are unbeaten in five – their last defeat coming against Exeter in round seven.
However Armand insisted last year’s defeat at the AJ Bell would not be a factor in their performance.
“I don’t think fear would be the right word, it’s just being aware that when you go away to Sale, what kind of things they bring and us being prepared fully,” said Armand.
“This is a new year and we’ve got a few new players and we’re just hoping we can stick to our guns and do what we do well and come up with a result.
“Sale can bring their grunt, try and get niggly and try and be physical, but I think we are the kind of team that can react to that and even surpass that. We just have to make sure we are up for the challenge.
“It is important that everyone has the same kind of mentality, that’s the fact that yes we did beat them, but that’s not going to help us any situation we might meet up there. It is a completely new game.
“We had the top of the table clash with Sarries and those kinds of games can go either way, I don’t think it’s a reflection that we couldn’t handle the pressure at the top.
“If we played them again next Saturday, I think the result would be different. The mentality has shifted very well to being top of the table.”
The Sharks come into the game full of confidence after their great win away at Leicester Tigers last time out.
That confidence was then boosted with news that No.8 Josh Beaumont will travel to Rome with England for their Six Nations clash with Italy.
Coach Steve Diamond believes Beaumont’s inclusion will spur on the team, but knows they will face a tough challenge against the Chiefs.
“It’s already been a great place to come to work this week after we chalked one off our bucket list by winning at Leicester,” said Diamond.
“And we’re even more happy that Josh has been called up for the England squad to travel to Italy. We are all delighted for him.
“As a result, Josh won’t be available for us against Exeter on Saturday but we are not selfish at all about that.
“We want him to play for England and he’s taken another big step closer to achieving that aim, so it is brilliant news.
“The other English lads we have here all know by looking at Josh just what they can achieve.
“We are training hard and understanding the opposition.”
(AJ Bell Stadium, 2.30pm)
Referee: Andrew Small (121st Premiership game).
Assistant Referees: Paul Dix & Robin Goodliffe. TMO: Geoff Warren.