Sale Sharks need to achieve three out of three wins in their final games in the Pool Two if they are to have any hope of a quarter-final spot in the Champions Cup. They travel to Exeter Chiefs this weekend with the hope of upsetting England’s high-fliers in the competition.
The State of the Pool
Exeter comfortably sits in pole position in the pool, a win at the weekend would all but guarantee them a place in the quarter-final for only the second time in their history. At the other end of the pool La Rochelle almost mathematically out of the competition with only pride to play for in the final there games.
Glasgow Warriors are looking fairly well placed for a best-runner up spot but this is by no means guaranteed. They need at least two wins from their final games and a smattering of bonus points to go along with them. This will be no easy task with a trip to Sale Sharks and the visit of Chiefs in rounds five and six.
Sale Sharks’ hopes are still alive in the Champions Cup but they need perfection in the final rounds. Only three wins and some bonus points to stand a chance of at best second place. It is a long shot for Steve Diamond’s men but the will not go down without a fight.
Here’s how it all looks in Pool 2⃣
— Heineken Champions Cup (@ChampionsCup) December 10, 2019
Glasgow vs La Rochelle
Saturday 5:15pm: Scotstoun Stadium
Embed from Getty ImagesThis is probably one of the most uninspiring ties of the weekend truth be told. With La Rochelle basically out of the competition, French sides’ history of poor performances away from it is difficult to see anything other than a home win.
Glasgow will be gunning for a try bonus points and should push on for as many points a possible in case things go that close in the final standings. The only way we can see an upset here is if La Rochelle decides to go full strength but this is still very unlikely.
Exeter Chiefs vs Sale Sharks
Sunday 1pm at Sandy Park
The main event from Pool Two is undoubtedly the Exeter Chiefs vs Sale Sharks Champions Cup clash. It is all or nothing for Sale knowing that only a win will do. Chiefs, on the other hand, have never won their first three games in the pool and are gunning for only their second ever quarter-final birth.
Back to Back Dynamic may Favour Sale
Speaking to Exeter Director of Rugby Rob Baxter he pointed out “story of doubles is one team go ahead and win the first game and then the other come back and bite them in the second”. In theory, this should favour the Sale Sharks but Baxter is doing everything in his power to make sure that does not happen.
“there were enough issues for us and enough things for us to work on”
Baxter was quick to note that although they were pleased with the performance last weekend there is still much to work on. As a result, the squad should have the desire to improve and put in a performance despite Sale’s desire to upset the party.
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Star centre Henry Slade noted that in these back to back games “teams that learn the best from the previous game” are the ones that “tend to do well”. Sale Sharks will be hoping they can learn from last week but will take heart from their spirited second-half performance that took them so close to a win.
Sale Sharks Need Perfection
Winning four games and coming out of the pool is not as uncommon as many think. Four of the last six qualifying runners up the Champions Cup have won four or less of their pool matches so Sale should not be disheartened.
However, needing three wins from three to close out the pool is not the position they will want to be in. The biggest test is clearly this weekend against Exeter Chiefs. Although, if they can get a win on Sunday Steve Diamond will look at La Rochelle away and Glasgow at home as very winnable games.
Sale’s squad certainly has the potential to do something special but they are yet to hit their straps. However, you have to expect that at some stage it will click and if that is this weekend, Chiefs should be worried.
Uncharted Territory for Exeter
Exeter has never won three games in a row in Europe. In fact, they have never won four games in the pool stages with their best points tally being just 16. This makes the final three rounds very much unchartered waters for the Chiefs.
However, Baxter is relishing the challenge say that “I wouldn’t swap this for anything else”. He also thinks that his side has “got to be prepared to talk games up” and that “positive pressure is good for us”.
Time will tell as to whether Exeter can cope with that pressure on the European stage but as England’s biggest hope in this year’s competition they know they are unlikely to have as good an opportunity as this year.
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