Round-up: Wary Sale planning to bank on Coutts

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The Independent Online

Sale Sharks should take a major step today towards achieving their twin targets for the season - lifting a trophy and finishing in the top four of the Zurich Premiership.

Despite leading 25-18 from the first leg in Ireland, Sale will guard against complacency when they entertain their European Challenge Cup semi-final opponents Connacht at Edgeley Park this afternoon.

"I'm pleased to go into the second leg seven points ahead, but I'm not pleased we conceded a soft late try when our advantage should have been 14 points," Kingsley Jones, Sale's head coach, said.

"It is very important we get to the final - we want that badly. If you win the European Challenge Cup, it is a route into the Heineken Cup. But a cup final is also such a great day out for the fans."

Sale have called up the former Ebbw Vale prop Ben Coutts while Andy Titterrell reverts to hooker following a stint as a flanker and fellow Lions selection Charlie Hodgson returns at fly-half.

Success today will earn Sale a place in the final at the Kassam Stadium, Oxford, on Saturday, May 21, against Pau, who shaded an all-French semi-final against Brive 50-43 on aggregate over the two legs.

Meanwhile, Bath have the chance today to leapfrog Sale into third place in the Premiership and make amends for their disappointing Powergen final defeat by Leeds at Twickenham last weekend.

Anticipating the meeting with relegation-threatened London Irish at the Madejski Stadium, Bath's head coach John Connolly said: "We just have to focus on the positives. We won a lot of ball and got ourselves into good positions [against Leeds]. We just need to ensure the execution is a lot better this time."

The Exiles are one of five teams who could still drop through the Premiership's trapdoor in favour of National League One champions Bristol next season. But by the same token, victories over Bath and in their final game against Newcastle could earn them a wildcard play-off spot and, potentially, Heineken Cup qualification. "Irish simply have to win their games, and that makes them dangerous," Connolly said.

Steve Borthwick is sidelined by a shoulder injury, so Rob Fidler continues alongside Danny Grewcock in the Bath second row, and Martyn Wood starts at scrum-half ahead of Nick Walshe.

For Irish, Mike Catt has been denied the opportunity to face his former club because of a knee injury, so Nils Mordt deputises at centre.

Canterbury Crusaders moved up to second in the Super 12 table with a thrilling, 40-36 victory over South Africa's Cats in Christchurch. The Sharks went down to a narrow away defeat - 30-25 to the Reds in Brisbane - but the third South African side in action, the Bulls, edged Waikato Chiefs 29-26 in Pretoria.