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By Behind the Bench
December 14 2016

With the chance to equal Munster's record of 13 straight top flight European wins with victory in Greater Manchester, Saracens have yet another incentive in their quest for a home Quarter Final, which seems all but assured.   

Last Saturday's six try display was a masterclass in precise and incisive attacking, and assured handling, most notably with the two tries for Sean Maitland, whilst Marcelo Bosch, Chris Wyles, Jamie George and Richard Barrington were all on the scoresheet too. However, equally impressive was restricting the visitors to a solitary penalty in the 50-3 win as only a handful of tackles were missed. They made 405 metres to Sale's 114, as their opponents failed to make a single line break, and enjoyed a clear minority of possession and territory, losing out to the hosts in the lineout and scrum as Saracens retained all of theirs and pinched a number of Sale's. As such, even given that the visitors were practically out of contention, it was still a display verging on the faultless. With another win likely to all but seal qualification for the knock-outs, especially if a third try bonus point in four can be claimed, Sarries will probably opt for another strong starting line up, with few changes from that fielded on Saturday. 
Although Sale will now concentrate on the Premiership now, there will be some intrigue in the Sharks team selection. They have announced the signing from Rugby League of Castleford Tigers winger Denny Solomona, who is expected to make his debut for the club in the backline this weekend despite the threat of legal action from his former employers. The Sharks are not in danger of relegation, given the sustained poor form of Bristol, but given their poor form on home turf which has led to their lowly tenth position in the table, they will look to target what would be a morale-boosting success, although having lost by 47 points, a turnaround seems a tall order. Saracens have already won here this season, as have Gloucester and Exeter, but there were early season victories over Harlequins and Leicester Tigers, which shows the ability within the Sale side. 
A possible line up for the hosts sees Tom Arscott at full back, with Paolo Odugwu and Josh Charnley on the wings outside a centre partnership of Sam James and Solomona, and a half back combination of AJ McGinty and scrum half Mike Phillips. Forwards-wise, the front row should feature Ross Harrison, Rob Webber and Halani Aulika again, with a second row duo of Josh Beaumont and Jonathan Mills, and a back row trio of Tom Curry, Ben Curry and Laurence Pearce. For Saracens, Alex Goode should remain at full back, with Maitland and Wyles on the wings, outside Bosch and Brad Barritt at centre, but a change at the half backs could see Alex Lozowski team up with Ben Spencer. Mako Vunipola, Schalk Brits and Petrus du Plessis are a possible front row, with Maro Itoje and George Kruis at lock, and a back row of Michael Rhodes, Schalk Burger and Jackson Wray. Given his extended absence aka "enforced rotation", Chris Ashton may start on the bench.
At the half-way point, some of the remaining issues in the other pools have become clearer, with mixed news for the other five Premiership sides. In Pool One, Munster's unexpected 38-0 demolition of Leicester Tigers, and an even rarer "nilling" has considering damaged the chances of the East Midlands side progressing, even if they repair some of the damage on the return on Saturday, given that Glasgow Warriors recorded the result of the European season by claiming victory at Racing 92, who have lost both of their games so far. Wasps came out of their home clash with former Pool 2 leaders Connacht with a bonus point victory and are now third favourites for the tournament, with Connacht and Toulouse fighting it out for a best runners up spot, probably decided on the sides' meeting in France in the final pool match. 
Toulon have drifted out to fifth favourites in Saracens' pool, and the meeting at Allianz Park in the closing match seems likely to have more bearing on their hopes rather than the hosts, although seeding could still be a factor for Sarries. From being very open at the start of play, Pool 4 has gained some space between the sides, as Leinster's comprehensive win at an off-colour Northampton side held their lead at the summit, and Montpellier had enough forward power to secure a 32-14 bonus point win against Castres despite playing much of the match with 14 men. Clermont Auvergne are now the second favourites after escaping from Ulster with losing  and try bonus points in a thrilling 39-32 victory for the hosts which kept their hopes alive. For Exeter, though, there will be no dramatic qualification unlike last year as the surprise home loss to Bordeaux-Begles meant three defeats from three. 

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14/12/2016 17:41
Thanks Gerard. Little DG and I are planning on making the trip - hoping for a better outcome than our only other trip to the AJB - a freezing cold loss in the LV Cup semi Final a few years ago

Edited 2 time(s). Last edit at 2016:12:24:22:43:02 by Darraghgirl.

TonyTaff (IP Logged)
14/12/2016 18:11
Excellent piece, again. Thanks!

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The Bard (IP Logged)
14/12/2016 18:58
Is Ashy actually available, thought it was next week?

derbyshire fan (IP Logged)
14/12/2016 20:25
Thanks BtB

Darraghgirl (IP Logged)
14/12/2016 22:40
Ashy is free from 19th - the day after! So maybe Christmas Eve?

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