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Jun 19, 2021 at 3.45pm UK
Exeter Chiefs
Sale Sharks
Cowan-Dickie (5'), O'Flaherty (10'), Nowell (30', 51'), Cuthbert (67')
Janse van Rensburg (25', 46'), du Preez (71')

Preview: Exeter Chiefs vs. Sale Sharks - predictions, team news, head to head record

:Headline: Preview: Exeter Chiefs vs. Sale Sharks - predictions, team news, head to head record:
Sports Mole previews Saturday's Gallagher Premiership semi-final between defending champions Exeter Chiefs and Sale Sharks, including predictions, team news and head-to-head records.
Sports Mole

One week after their dress rehearsal on the final day of the regular season, Exeter Chiefs and Sale Sharks will renew hostilities in the semi-finals of the Gallagher Premiership on Saturday.

Defending champions Exeter are bidding to reach the final for the sixth successive year, whereas Sale have reached the post-season for the first time since 2005-06.

Match preview

In terms of recent history there could not be much more between these two sides, with Exeter establishing themselves as perennial finalists and Sale having not made it this far for 15 years.

However, in terms of current form there is not much to separate Exeter and Sale, with both clubs ending the regular season in fine form to set up a mouth-watering clash at Sandy Park on Saturday.

The Chiefs' narrow 20-19 win over Saturday's opponents last weekend was their seventh in a row in the competition - a run which stretches back to the end of March.

However, while Sale did lose that game, despite Exeter having Sam Skinner sent off with 26 minutes remaining, they had won each of their previous eight league games in a row before that and come into the playoffs as one of the division's form teams.

The Sharks know they can beat the Chiefs too, having done so in the reverse fixture in February, but Exeter in the semi-finals seem to be a different proposition altogether.

Rob Baxter's side have made it into the playoffs in each of the last five seasons, and on each occasion have earned home advantage, boasting a 100% record from those five semis.

A record of two wins from those five subsequent finals is one they will be desperate to improve upon this year as they bid to join the ranks of back-to-back champions, and they will be favourites to at least get the chance by reaching a sixth successive showpiece.

Exeter have not lost a home league game since February 20, but Sale will relish the chance to end that record and book their place in the final for only the second time.

The Sharks have won one and lost one of their previous two semi-finals, going all the way to claim their maiden title in 2005-06, and now the current crop have the chance to emulate the likes of Jason Robinson, Mark Cueto, Charlie Hodgson and Sebastien Chabal.

Alex Sanderson's men ended the regular season in third place, thanks largely to that eight-game winning streak which only came to an end courtesy of that one-point defeat to Saturday's hosts on the final day.

However, the visitors will be without one of men most responsible for getting them to this stage in AJ MacGinty - an absence which could prove crucial in such a tight encounter.

Exeter Chiefs Premiership form:
  • W
  • W
  • W
  • W
  • W
  • W

Sale Sharks Premiership form:
  • W
  • W
  • W
  • W
  • W
  • L

Team News

Exeter will be without suspended duo Sam Skinner and Dave Ewers for this match - and the final should they get there - after both players were handed four-week bans for high tackles in last weekend's match between these two sides.

The impact of their absences could be mitigated by the returns of Jonny Gray and Jannes Kirsten, though, with both players battling to be fit enough to feature on Saturday.

Jacques Vermeulen will miss the contest through injury, but England international Jack Nowell should be ready to return to the backline.

Sale have been hit by the news that mercurial playmaker and star man AJ MacGinty will miss this game with a leg injury he sustained last week. South Africa international Rob du Preez is expected to start in his place.

The Sharks could also be without Akker van der Merwe after he was forced off last weekend, while Cam Neild, who replaced Van der Merwe, will also miss out.

Head To Head

This is the first time these two sides have ever faced each other in a knockout game, but as mentioned they are familiar having played each other just last week.

Exeter's one-point win in that game means that the last four meetings have been split at two victories apiece.

However, Sale have only won twice in 12 previous visits to Sandy Park across all competitions, with the latest of those coming in January 2020.

We say: Exeter to win

This has all the makings of a classic contest, and despite the huge difference in semi-final experience between the two squads, it is one which both sides will fancy their chances of winning.

The absence of AJ MacGinty is a hammer blow for Sale, though, and ultimately that could be the difference against an Exeter side that have a formidable record at this stage.

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