TEAM NEWS | Exeter Chiefs v Sale Sharks

CAPTAIN Ben Curry returns from injury while Tom O’Flaherty is named in the XV to face his former club Exeter Chiefs for a game Sharks DoR Alex Sanderson says is huge for his side’s chances of making the top four at the end of the season. 

Alex also names a 6-2 bench split for Sunday’s game, which will be shown live on both ITV and TNT Sports (KO 3pm). 

Alex has picked an unchanged front-row to face Rob Baxter’s Chiefs, with academy products Bevan Rodd and James Harper packing down either side of Luke Cowan-Dickie. 

In the second-row, Cobus Wiese starts again alongside Beaumont, while in the back-row Ernst van Rhyn and captain Curry team up with JL du Preez at number 8. 

The half-backs are unchanged as Gus Warr starts alongside George Ford, with Manu Tuilagi and Rob du Preez outside them in the centres. 

O’Flaherty, Tom Roebuck and Joe Carpenter make up the rest of the XV. 

On the replacements bench, Ross Harrison joins hooker Tommy Taylor and Asher Opoku-Fordjour. Ben Bamber, Sam Dugdale and Hyron Andrews make up the rest of the forwards replacements, while Raffi Quirke and Sam James will cover the backs. 

Speaking ahead of the game, Alex said the players know how important this game is and he called on fans to “keep the faith.” 

He said: “I’m excited by the challenge that this team and this organisation faces. I don’t know any other way to take it. If I’m not bothered how the lads are going to respond, or I don’t feel up for the fight, then I’m in the wrong job.  

“Our backs are against the wall and when this team is in that situation, they know how to respond. In fact, there’s only one way to respond and that’s why I’m excited about this game. 

“The players aren’t idiots. They understand the importance of the 80 minutes we have in front of us. The top four is very much on with a good win, but lose, and it does become very difficult. 

“I trust these players. I believe in them. But I expect more from them, and that’s what we’re looking for in this game.” 

Sale Sharks Starting XV:   

15. Joe Carpenter, 14. Tom Roebuck 13. Rob du Preez, 12. Manu Tuilagi, 11. Tom O’Flaherty, 10. George Ford, 9. Gus Warr, 1. Bevan Rodd, 2. Luke Cowan-Dickie, 3. James Harper, 4. Cobus Wiese, 5. Josh Beaumont, 6. Ernst van Rhyn, 7. Ben Curry ©, 8. JL du Preez.   

Replacements:   

16. Tommy Taylor, 17. Ross Harrison, 18. Asher Opoku-Fordjour, 19. Ben Bamber, 20. Hyron Andrews, 21. Sam Dugdale, 22. Raffi Quirke, 23. Sam James. 

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