Steve Diamond warns Sale to expect tough test at London Irish
Sale Sharks boss Steve Diamond has warned his players to expect a London Irish team "absolutely desperate" in their quest for vital Aviva Premiership points on Saturday.
Relegation favourites Irish are currently adrift at the Premiership basement and time is running out.
Four points behind 11th-placed Newcastle with just four games left, Sale's Madejski Stadium visit this weekend - followed by a crunch Kingston Park clash against the Falcons on April 17 - could either seal Irish's fate or see them still scrapping for survival.
"We've got to go down there and perform," said Diamond, whose team are just three points off the top-six pace with a game in hand.
"If we get the performance, we stand a chance of beating London Irish, who are going to be absolutely desperate.
"We have not played well there in recent times - we threw the game away there last year.
"We've got to understand the animal we are playing against. They are desperate, they will be fighting tooth and nail to remain in the league.
"The win we had against Leicester (last Sunday) means nothing if we can't get a win at Irish. I have told the players that, and we have to go there and play as well as we did last Sunday."
Sale have not won at the Madejski since 2006, and apart from targeting victory over the Sharks, Irish could also do with Newcastle coming unstuck against Harlequins on Saturday.
"We are hoping Quins can do us a favour against Newcastle, and we know how important the next two games are," Irish hooker David Paice said.
"If we can stop Sale getting on the front foot, then we will have a chance. We feel like we have been improving in recent weeks, even if the results haven't always been there."
Newcastle head coach John Wells, though, is upbeat about the Falcons' prospects against a Quins side that sees England Grand Slam winners Mike Brown, Danny Care, Joe Marler, Chris Robshaw and Jack Clifford all starting as they look to stay part of the title play-off pack.
Wells said: "We are confident we can beat Harlequins. We have done it on the last two occasions we have played them.
"We are not stupid in thinking we can just rock up and roll them over. They have their stars back, and there is a massive difference between the Quins team we played in January to the one we will face down there.
"But, like us a little bit, they haven't won a lot of games recently. That does affect your confidence, and in some ways there is more pressure on them.
"We can go there knowing we are playing a side capable of producing good football, but knowing that if we strangle them, make them do the things they don't like doing, we are in with a chance of getting a result."
Elsewhere on Saturday, Worcester visit Exeter following a club record four successive Premiership wins, and Gloucester visit fifth-placed Leicester, where defeat would see the west country club suffer four league defeats in a row for the first time since November 2013.
"We are disappointed with the results over the last few weeks, disappointed with some aspects of our game, but encouraged by other aspects," Gloucester head coach Laurie Fisher said.
"We hurt ourselves with errors last week (against Bath), and certainly in the last two weeks we've been in a position to go on and win the game midway through the second half. But through discipline or errors, we haven't been able to close things out.
"We don't need to panic or force things. We need to trust ourselves and turn up with the right attitude, which I guarantee we will, with the right plan, which I'm sure we've got, and give a really good account of ourselves."
Sunday's Premiership action, meanwhile, is at the Ricoh Arena in Coventry, where victory for Wasps over play-off rivals Northampton would increase the gap between themselves and Saints to a double-figure points margin.