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Bath
Gallagher Premiership Playoffs | Semi-Finals
Jun 1, 2024 at 3.30pm UK
 
Sale Sharks
BathBath Rugby
vs.
Sale Sharks

Preview: Bath Rugby vs. Sale Sharks - prediction, team news, lineups

Sports Mole previews Saturday's Gallagher Premiership Playoffs clash between Bath Rugby and Sale Sharks, including predictions, team news and possible lineups.

The second semi-final of the 2023-24 Gallagher Premiership season will come from the Recreation Ground, where Bath Rugby will play host to Sale Sharks.

Bath ended the regular season in second place with 60 points in their 18 games, while Sale finished the campaign as the most in-form side and secured third place with 56 points.


Match preview

Bath Rugby's Ted Hill, Sam Underhill, Josh Bayliss and Miles Reid applaud fans after the match on May 29, 2024© Reuters

Bath Rugby have home advantage when they take on Sale on Saturday and this match marks the first time in four years that they have reached the Premiership's last four, as well as their first home semi-final since the 2014-15 season.

After dominating English rugby in the late '80s and '90s with six league titles in eight seasons, Bath have not secured any domestic silverware since. However, they rose to the occasion at the Rec with a six-try, 43-12 victory over table-toppers Northampton in the final round of the group to confirm their place in the playoffs.

The last time Bath reached a Premiership semi-final was in 2020 when they suffered a heavy 35-6 defeat to Exeter Chiefs at Sandy Park, and that seemed to signal the beginning of a challenging period for the club, ultimately leading to their first-ever bottom-place finish for the first time in their history.

However, since the appointment of South African Johann van Graan as the club's director of rugby in 2022, Bath have been on an upward trajectory. The possibility of being crowned Premiership champions is now within reach, and historically, securing a home semi-final has provided a significant advantage.

While Sale were the form side in the closing stages of the regular season, Bath have the psychological advantage heading into this encounter, having convincingly beaten this opponent 42-24 when the sides met at this venue back in March.

Sale Sharks' George Ford looks dejected on May 29, 2024© Reuters

Meanwhile, Sale Sharks enter the knockout phase of the competition with strong momentum, having won their last five league matches. They secured their spot in the playoffs with a final-week victory against Saracens at the StoneX Stadium, a venue where they had only won once in their previous 12 visits.

Alex Sanderson's side ended the season with 12 wins, which was the joint-highest number of outright victories in this year's Premiership alongside the Northampton Saints, but their lack of bonus points (eight) in the competition ultimately saw them finish four points off the top two teams.

While it is something that Sale fans do not want to hear, it has to be pointed out that there is one somewhat unusual statistic that is against the Sharks here, and that is the fact that no team has ever gone on to win the Premiership after finishing the season in third place.

Additionally, only two teams finishing third have managed to win their semi-final and advance to the final at Twickenham in the last 21 seasons (London Irish in 2009 and Saracens in 2010), and no third-placed team has made it to the Premiership final in the last 13 seasons.

However, Sale have already made history this season by securing a league victory against Saracens for the first time since 2005, predating Saracens' move to StoneX, and now will feel like an opportune moment to set a few more records, starting with their upcoming match against Bath on Saturday.

Bath Rugby Gallagher Premiership form:

  • W
  • L
  • W
  • L
  • W
  • W


Sale Sharks Gallagher Premiership form:

  • L
  • W
  • W
  • W
  • W
  • W


Team News

Manu Tuilagi in action with Finn Russell on May 29, 2024© Reuters

In the lead-up to this weekend's showdown, Van Graan confirmed that only three senior players, Chris Cloete, Sam Harris and Tom de Glanville, are currently unavailable for the semi-final match.

Josh Bayliss put in a Man of the Match performance against the second-string Saints in the last match and should maintain his position at the back of the pack, while Finn Russell and Ben Spencer are expected to start in the halves pairing.

Thomas du Toit joined Spencer as the only two players to make this year's Premiership Team of the Year, and the Springbok forward should form part of the front row alongside Tom Dunn and Beno Obano in this one.

Despite George Ford's standout performances playing a pivotal role in their resurgence from eighth place in March, Sale did not have any representation in the Premiership Team of the Season.

Manu Tuilagi lasted just 17 minutes before being withdrawn due to injury against Sarries, and while the centre has not been ruled out just yet, he may have to settle for a spot on the bench.

Tom Curry could make an appearance for the first time since England's World Cup bronze medal match in October following a recovery from hip surgery.


Bath Rugby predicted starting lineup: 15 Matt Gallagher, 14 Joe Cokanasiga, 13 Ollie Lawrence, 12 Cameron Redpath, 11 Will Muir, 10 Finn Russell, 9 Ben Spencer, 8 Josh Bayliss, 7 Sam Underhill, 6 Ted Hill, 5 Charlie Ewels, 4 Quinn Roux, 3 Thomas du Toit, 2 Tom Dunn, 1 Beno Obano

Replacements: 16 Niall Annett, 17 Juan Schoeman, 18 Will Stuart, 19 Elliott Stooke, 20 Alfie Barbeary, 21 Louis Schreuder, 22 Orlando Bailey, 23 Miles Reid

Sale Sharks starting lineup: 15 Joe Carpenter, 14 Tom Roebuck, 13 Rob du Preez, 12 Sam James, 11 Tom O'Flaherty, 10 George Ford, 9 Gus Warr, 8 JL du Preez, 7 Sam Dugdale, 6 Ben Curry (c), 5 Hyron Andrews, 4 Cobus Wiese, 3 James Harper, 2 Luke Cowan-Dickie, 1 Bevan Rodd

Replacements: 16 Tommy Taylor, 17 Si McIntyre, 18 WillGriff John, 19 Ben Bamber, 20 Ernst van Rhyn, 21 Raffi Quirke, 22 Manu Tuilagi, 23 Arron Reed


SM words green background

We say: Bath Rugby 29-20 Sale Sharks

Sale Sharks' surge to clinch a playoff spot has been admirable, but playing away at this stage is never an easy task, and history is certainly not on the side of teams that end the regular season in third place.

Under Van Graan, Bath have reemerged as a force in the Premiership, and their strength in depth could be the defining factor in this one.

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Who will win Saturday's Gallagher Premiership Playoffs clash between Bath and Sale Sharks?

Bath Rugby
Draw
Sale Sharks
Bath Rugby
80.0%
Draw
0.0%
Sale Sharks
20.0%
15
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Manu Tuilagi in action for Sale Sharks in December 2023
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