Two from the top and five from the bottom as they say on Countdown. Those are Saints’ final seven games of the season, with Sale – second in the league – coming to Franklin’s Gardens on Saturday.
The correct rugby understatement for this game is: “We expect it to be physical”. The north westerners will be bringing the smash, not least via their legion of South Africans but these days they also know a bit about the finer things thanks to influences like George Ford.
Suddenly Sale have assembled a glittering squad of talent in all areas and their reward for it is that only they are really keeping up with Saracens in the race to finish first at the end of the season.
Maybe too often Saints have been the beauty to Sale’s beast when they clash and Saints frontline prop Paul Hill is clear in his mind about how Northampton will approach this game.
“Sale is a team we always look forward to. I don’t think we have won down there since I’ve been at the club but when they come here it’s always a fantastic game. It was the year of Covid, they had a very similar pack to what they have now and the boys put in one of the best defensive performances I have ever seen in a game of rugby. They’ve got a big old pack, very organised maul and their scrum has been doing some damage this year, so those are the bits we have got to target,” he said.
He’s not too concerned about the arithmetic of who can overtake who at this stage of the league.
“I know we are fourth and that’s about all I know. I’m one of those who just likes to rock up and play my best. We have got seven games left and every one of those is a massive game. We’ve got to build on that momentum for the last stretch,” he said.
George Furbank is among the internationals available to Saints this week and knows Sharks will be no pushover.
“They are obviously flying this season. They bring a big physical game, a big kicking game and they have really developed that running game so they are a triple threat. It’s going to be a big challenge for us this week, but one we are really excited for,” he said.
Director of Rugby Phil Dowson agreed that the grit that secured a win at Leicester needs to be shown at home now.
He said: “Yes we need to bring that physicality every week. There are not many teams that win games that aren’t physical, who aren’t winning physical battles. All the fundamentals of the game are essential, particularly against one of the top two sides in the country.”
Saints take on Sharks at 3pm on Saturday