Manu Tuilagi will make his long-awaited comeback from a ruptured Achilles tendon when Sale face Gallagher Premiership leaders Bristol on Friday.
Tuilagi is poised to make his first appearance since September after being named on the bench for the AJ Bell Stadium showdown.
Sharks director of rugby Alex Sanderson said this week that the England centre looks “scarily powerful” and “strong as a bull” in training.
Tuilagi’s return is a major boost for Sale, who are guaranteed a place in the Premiership play-offs and mathematically could finish as high as first.
Given he is an automatic selection when fit, it is also a big lift for England as they look towards summer Tests against the United States and Canada.
The British and Irish Lions will be monitoring his fitness carefully as well in the event that one of their centres is injured on the tour to South Africa.
Tuilagi was left out of the original 37-man squad because of concerns over his lack of game time, but Warren Gatland has said he is still on the Lions’ radar.
Apart from guiding Tuilagi back to his explosive best, one of Sale’s key tasks for the remaining three matches of the regular season and their play-off campaign is to stamp out their indiscipline.
“We’ve won nine of 11 matches when we’ve received 21 yellow. So that’s not a fluke. It can’t be a fluke,” Sanderson said.
“We’ve got something special here. When our backs are against the wall, we tend to galvanise and energise. That’s a really strong behaviour trait that I want to keep hold of – I’d just rather we had that mentality with 15 men on the field.
“We will be tougher to beat with 15 on the field and it’s something we keep talking about.”
Bristol will travel to Manchester in pursuit of an important prize that excites director of rugby Pat Lam.
“This is the final stretch. The most important thing for us is that we have an opportunity, with five points on offer, four points will seal a home semi,” Lam said.
“That’s the big incentive – to get the win and if we can secure a home semi-final with two games to go, it will be a tremendous effort.”
In Friday night’s second fixture, Gloucester host London Irish at Kingsholm.
“𝙈𝙖𝙣𝙪 𝙡𝙤𝙤𝙠𝙨 𝙎𝘾𝘼𝙍𝙔!”
— Sale Sharks 🦈 (@SaleSharksRugby) May 27, 2021