Worcester look to boost survival chances at Sale

Worcester could deliver another hammer blow to Bristol's Aviva Premiership survival prospects on Friday.

Victory for the Warriors over AJ Bell Stadium hosts Sale Sharks would open up a minimum 13-point gap between themselves and relegation favourites Bristol, with the west country club having just four games left.

Given that three of those fixtures are against title-chasing Wasps, Exeter and Saracens, Bristol's fate looks likely to be sealed sooner, rather than later.

And they can expect few favours from a Worcester side that have shown marked signs of improvement under their South African rugby director Gary Gold, including an emphatic recent victory over Bristol and two bonus points claimed in defeat against Premiership leaders Wasps.

South Africa international scrum-half Francois Hougaard (pictured) is currently Worcester's most influential player, and his battle with Sale's former Wales number nine Mike Phillips could go some way towards deciding Friday's outcome.

"It is going to be a really tough game," Phillips said."They were unlucky in their last game against Wasps, so we know how difficult it is going to be.

"They have really improved recently. They have got some players back in there, with Hougaard, who has been back for a while now, making a difference."

Sale are just four points ahead of Worcester in 10th place, and Sharks rugby director Steve Diamond added: "The message I've said to the squad is that we need to end a disappointing season on a high.

"We've got two home and two away games left, and we should be able to get 10-12 points from them if we carry on in the same vein of form since Christmas, except for the blip against Northampton. We need to perform."

Newcastle and Gloucester, two clubs currently outside the Premiership's top six but still harbouring European Champions Cup qualification hopes for next term, meet at Kingston Park on Friday.

The Falcons were well beaten by Harlequins last time out, and rugby director Dean Richards said: "I was annoyed with the way we conceded some very easy tries. And as much as Harlequins were on top of their game, it was a very frustrating and disappointing day from our own point of view.

"It is behind us now though, and we are working hard to put it right. Without a doubt, it is important in terms of our Champions Cup ambitions that we get the win on Friday. It starts running away from us if we don't, and we need to win."

Gloucester currently occupy eighth place, four points above Newcastle, and they go into action following successive Premiership and European Challenge Cup wins against Bristol and Cardiff Blues, respectively.

"Over the last couple of weeks, there have been large parts of our game that have been good, there are other parts that we still have to work on," Gloucester rugby director David Humphreys said.

"But two wins from the last two weeks is a big step forward. There is a good vibe about the squad, a good buzz. Everyone is excited about getting up to Newcastle, playing on a good pitch in good weather, hopefully. It should be a good game.

"The challenge for us is that we were good against Bristol, we were better against Cardiff. If we want to win again, we will have to be better again at Newcastle." 

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