Sport Ollie Phillips: I fancy Sale and Bristol to advance in Prem semis

10:30  18 june  2021
10:30  18 june  2021 Source:   cityam.com

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The Premiership Rugby semi-finals this weekend are a fascinating collision of contrasts – and I can’t wait.

While Exeter and Sale will look to knock 10 bells out of each other, Bristol and Harlequins promises a feast of fast, flowing rugby.

And in Sale and Quins we have two teams transformed by coaching changes this season up against more established winners.

Exeter v Sale

Exeter hosting Sale looks sure to be a humdinger at Sandy Park.

The hosts edged out Sale 20-19 in their last game to ensure they will again play this match at home, and that’s a significant advantage.

Exeter also have experience on their side, having won the Premiership last season.

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But if there is one team that can match their power then it is in-form Sale, who are a massive threat.

Alex Sanderson has done a remarkable job since taking over as director of rugby in January.

Sanderson was instrumental in Saracens’ rise to dominance and has taken Sale to another level since succeeding Steve Diamond.

He brings a great energy with his approach and it is evident in how ferocious Sale have looked.

Exeter will be without Dave Ewers and Sam Skinner, both banned for dangerous tackles.

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There are useful players waiting to step in but that is still a major blow and coach Rob Baxter’s whinging this week suggests he is worried.

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I can see Sale winning this and I think those absences could make the difference in what is sure to be a fiercely contested game.

Bristol v Harlequins

Bristol have had an extra week off after their last match was cancelled due to an outbreak of Covid-19 at London Irish.

On the one they could be fresher, but on the other they have lost a bit of edge.

Harlequins, meanwhile, ran in 50 points against Newcastle Falcons last time. I’d rather be in their shoes.

Quins have momentum and some special players in Marcus Smith, Danny Care, Alex Dombrandt and Joe Marler. All the men in key positions are on fire.

Bristol have so much firepower, though: Max Malins, Semi Radradra, Callum Sheedy, Harry Randall, Nathan Hughes, Dave Attwood, Steven Luatua and, if fit, Charles Piutau.

Having won the European Challenge Cup last season, they topped the domestic table this term.

This is a massive opportunity to take another step towards winning a first Premiership title and I’ve a feeling it might be their time.

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Saracens all but booked an instant return to the top flight with an emphatic 60-0 win at Ealing Trailfinders last weekend.

Ealing have been touted as a potential Premiership side but were humbled at home, unable to breach Sarries even once in the Championship play-off first leg.

For Saracens, this was the most high-pressure tie they will ever face. If you lose a cup final you’ve still got next season but had they failed to go up this year, they could have seen the Premiership ring-fenced and the club frozen out. This was massive.

It was also a hell of a statement. This is a sign of what’s coming next and I’m sure Saracens will be straight back to the top next season.

Former England Sevens captain Ollie Phillips is the founder of Optimist Performance, experts in leadership development & behavioural change. Follow Ollie on Twitter and on LinkedIn.

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