Sale have made just one change to their 23 for Friday evening’s visit to Manchester by Premiership leaders Exeter, who include Alex Cuthbert in their starting line-up for the first time since last November.  

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Sam James has returned to the Sharks squad at outside centre, with Manu Tuilagi deployed at inside centre for the top-table clash at the AJ Bell Stadium. Sam Hill, the former Exeter centre, steps out of the team that lost last weekend at Harlequins. 

Sale boss Steve Diamond said: “Exeter have an extremely powerful game and they showed at the weekend that when they can’t score from their usual pick and go, they have class in their backs to do the damage out wide. 

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“They are without a doubt the best team in the competition and have been in the top two for the last four to five years, it’s where everyone wants to be. We have trained well this week after a disappointing night at The Stoop. Our discipline let us down against Harlequins and we didn’t really get to fire a shot.” 

Team news for the Chiefs sees Rob Baxter stick with a largely unchanged starting line-up following their restart win at home over Leicester. An ankle injury to centre Ollie Devoto means the England international misses out this time round, so Ian Whitten is promoted from the bench to fill the midfield void.

Winger Cuthbert also returns to the starting line-up for the first time in nine months. The Welsh international has now fully recovered from shoulder surgery and replaces Tom O’Flaherty. Up front, changes see Ben Moon start at loosehead in place of Alec Hepburn while Jacques Vermeulen replaces compatriot Jannes Kirsten in the back row.

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Kirsten drops to the bench in place of Don Armand, Billy Keast is added as the back-up at prop while Tom Hendrickson comes into the void left by Whitten.

“We’re all expecting a better Sale performance this week,” said Baxter. “But, as I said to the lads after the game on Saturday, we should expect every team to be better this week. I know we will be better and you have to kind of expect the same from others. What we have to make sure is that our level of improvement overtakes that of other teams.

“Right now, the reality is that there is a lot of games coming up and a compact table. We could go from feeling pretty good about the points we got last weekend to all of a sudden losing two games to our closest rivals, then going into a game where there will be a bit of pressure on us.”

SALE SHARKS: 15. Simon Hammersley; 14. Byron McGuigan, 13. Sam James, 12. Manu Tuilagi, 11. Marland Yarde; 10. Rob du Preez, 9. Faf de Klerk; 1. Coenie Oosthuizen, 2. Akker van der Merwe, 3. Will-Griff John, 4. Jean-Luc du Preez, 5. Lood de Jager, 6. Jono Ross (capt) 7. Tom Curry, 8. Daniel du Preez. Reps: 16. Curtis Langdon, 17. Ross Harrison, 18. Jake Cooper-Woolley, 19. James Phillips, 20. Ben Curry, 21. Will Cliff, 22. AJ MacGinty, 23. Denny Solomona.

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EXETER CHIEFS: 15. Stuart Hogg; 14. Alex Cuthbert, 13. Henry Slade, 12. Ian Whitten, 11. Olly Woodburn; 10. Joe Simmonds (capt), 9. Jack Maunder; 1. Ben Moon, 2. Luke Cowan-Dickie, 3. Harry Williams, 4. Jonny Gray, 5. Jonny Hill, 6. Dave Ewers, 7. Jacques Vermeulen, 8. Sam Simmonds. Reps: 16. Jack Yeandle, 17. Billy Keast, 18. Tomas Francis, 19. Sam Skinner, 20. Jannes Kirsten, 21. Sam Hidalgo-Clyne, 22. Gareth Steenson, 23. Tom Hendrickson.

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