While Irish are not entirely out of the relegation woods, a continuation of their impressive home form this weekend would erase any lingering fears. The Exiles are currently five points above 11th-placed Sale, with Sharks a further five points clear of bottom club and relegation favourites London Welsh.
Irish, though, are unbeaten at the Madejski Stadium since Christmas, which underlines how big a task Sale face. "I was very pleased with the efforts of our entire squad last weekend," said rugby director Smith, reflecting on a 26-6 home victory against Worcester.
"The forwards fronted-up and set a platform for the team to keep the scoreboard moving. On Sunday, it is important we keep that same level of performance. Sale are currently playing well, so we know it will be another challenge."
Irish show a solitary change from the Worcester game, with Samoa international wing Sailosi Tagicakibau returning to action in the number 11 shirt in a team captained by lock George Skivington.
Sale, whose relegation battle was buoyed by a 14-13 victory over Bath last time out, are unchanged behind the scrum, but James Gaskell switches from lock to number eight instead of Andy Powell, and Kearnan Myall forms the second-row partnership alongside Andrei Ostrikov.
Sale have not triumphed at the Madejski Stadium for more than six years, while only one Premiership away win this season - 26-25 against London Welsh - suggests they could struggle to make an impact against opponents who now have ninth-placed Worcester in their sights.
"It'll be a tough challenge," Sale backs coach Bryan Redpath said.
"We want to make sure we can be proud of our performance going into our next home games, and if that brings us a result then great.
"We are not out of the hot water yet. We've still got two or three games that we need to win to stay in the division, so it is in our hands in many ways."
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