Sale Sharks to continue push for European Champions Cup spot versus Gloucester
Sale Sharks will continue their concerted push for automatic European Champions Cup qualification when they host Aviva Premiership opponents Gloucester on Friday.
The fifth-placed Sharks still have an outside chance of achieving Premiership play-off status, although those hopes will end if Leicester beat Welford Road visitors Worcester on Saturday.
But a top-six finish and prized Champions Cup place is completely in Sale's hands, guaranteeing qualification for next season's tournament should they win their final two league games against Gloucester and Newcastle.
Sale are unbeaten at home in the Premiership this term, which is a record they are determined to preserve when Gloucester's visit ends the 2015-16 league programme at the AJ Bell Stadium.
"Gloucester are a proven side. They beat Exeter in their last game in the Premiership," Sharks rugby director Steve Diamond said.
"We've just got make sure we can handle their players. They have a big pack, so we've got to make sure we can handle those threats.
"We have got to make sure we don't slip, and that we play as well as we have been doing at home.
"We know Gloucester will be coming determined, because if they win, they stand a chance of getting in the top six, so it's a big game for both sides.
"They are a team that bounces back after defeats, and they are a formidable side at Kingsholm. They have not got a good record here, but they will be coming to win."
Sale show one change from the side edged out in a high-scoring game at Bath last weekend. Back-row forward Cameron Neild is called into the team, with Mark Easter dropping to the bench, while Gloucester captain and scrum-half Greig Laidlaw will wear the number 10 shirt as replacement for the injured James Hook, with Willi Heinz taking Laidlaw's usual role.
For their part, Gloucester must defeat Sale and next week's final Premiership opponents Northampton to have any chance of a Premiership top-half finish, while also hoping other results work for them.
"We know that we've struggled up in Manchester over a long period of time, but we want a good finish to the season," Gloucester head coach Laurie Fisher said.
"They (Sale) have had a particularly good year. They are a really well-organised team, very physical and with a great track record at home. So, it's an excellent challenge and hopefully one we can rise to.
"When we play well, we defend well, we have a solid set-piece, our kicking game works for us and we have lots of energy and enthusiasm. That's your basic formula, and we have to front-up and do that."