How are the teams getting on so far?
Both sides will be unhappy to enter Round Six in the bottom half of the table. That being said, Sale have not done too badly having managed to score thirty-five points in a losing effort at Wasps. Their other two losses were a single point defeat at the hands of the increasingly formidable Newcastle Falcons, followed by an unsuccessful trip to the mighty Saracens. They will be feeling confident coming off a dominant 41-13 victory against Gloucester in Round Five.
Harlequins’ form has been eclectic. They’ve managed to lose to newly-promoted London Irish among others, but have chalked up victories against Wasps and Gloucester. While they are not being seriously discussed as relegation candidates they will need to show some consistency in order to challenge further up the table, which should be the minimum expectation for a team boasting multiple current England internationals.
What to get excited about:
Styles make fights – When the current crop of Harlequins were at the peak of their powers in 2012 they won the Premiership. At the time they were lauded as the shining light of an English rugby which was otherwise devoid of attacking ambition. While they have not competed for the title in a few years they retain the ability to play some fantastic rugby and their first instinct remains to attack. Sale on the other hand, hail from Manchester and are led by the hard-nosed Steve Diamond. They will be looking to impose themselves physically and use a strong set-piece to chip away at the Londoners and it will be interesting to see who can control the tempo.
Marland vs Denny – It’s easy to forget that Denny Solomona has been playing Rugby Union for less than a year. During that time he has managed to score prolifically for Sale, made his England debut and even grabbed a winning try against Argentina. His dizzy rise was halted after being sent home from an England training squad for an alcohol related incident earlier in the season and he has been in exile ever since. Denny will be determined to make a statement against old Eddie Jones favourite Marland Yarde, who has shown a bit more form in the opening weeks than he has in previous seasons. This could be the deciding battle for the fourth England wing spot during the Autumn Internationals.
Marcus Smith – It’s pretty unusual to see an eighteen year-old fly-half appearing in the Premiership at all, however Smith has bucked the trend by starting games for Harlequins this season. The mercurial talent’s age alone serves notice that he may be a serious force on the international stage in years to come, although his recent performances deserve recognition in of themselves. A mixture of flair, vision and confidence while maintaining the ability to control proceedings from first receiver have been the hallmarks of his game so far. It may all go horribly wrong for Marcus one of these days but either way it makes for an entertaining Friday night.
Predictions: Form so far this season would suggest that Sale are the favourites to get an important victory away from home this weekend. Harlequins do still posses enormous quality within their ranks and have tended to mix the bad with the good in roughly equal measures for the past few years. For this reason I expect Quins to pull a win out of the bag, although the score line could depend on how their back line fire. If the opposite turns out true and Sale come away with the victory it will serve notice to the rest of the league that they need to be taken seriously.