Mitchell did not even consider the 11th hour claims of his England A lock, despite Fowler's new-found belief in the miraculous; on Saturday, Erskine will again deputise in the engine room alongside Dave Baldwin with Mitchell himself filling in for the injured Charlie Vyvyan at No 8. Fowler is now hoping to overcome his serious knee ligament condition in time for England's tour to Argentina later this month.
The only newcomer to the side that drew a brutal league match with the Tigers last weekend is Neil Ashurst who plays at blind-side flanker. "To lose both Fowler and Vyvyan is absolutely devastating because it leaves us at the very limit of our strength in depth," Mitchell said. "Having said that, Neil possesses the experience to deliver a big game on the big occasion."
SALE (v Leicester, Twickenham, Saturday): J Mallinder (capt); D Rees, J Baxendell, A Hadley, T Beim; S Mannix, D Morris; P Winstanley, S Diamond, A Smith, D Erksine, D Baldwin, N Ashurst, J Mitchell, D O'Grady. Replacements: C Yates, J O'Reilly, M Driver, L Hewson, S Fletcher, A Morris.
The lock Martin Bayfield withdrew from the England tour to Argentina yesterday with a recurrence of his groin injury.
Next season's European Conference will rise from eight clubs to 32, with 16 from France, eight from England, four from Wales and one each from Ireland, Italy, Romania and Scotland.