South Africa scrum-half and World Cup winner De Klerk feels he "still has points to prove" (Image: Getty Images)

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Sam Simmonds and Faf de Klerk start a two-month battle today with the Springbok admitting the Lion poses a “massive” threat.

Simmonds, the Premiership’s newly named player of the season, is tasked with guiding Exeter to a sixth straight Grand Final.

De Klerk, Sale’s pocket dynamo scrum-half, plans to thwart him and then repeat the trick across the three-Test Boks-Lions series.

“Sam’s ability to score tries is there for all to see,” said De Klerk. “He is phenomenally quick over the park, links well with players and is a massive threat to any team.

“Once Exeter get on the front foot with a half-break he is gone. No-one’s catching him. But if we can give them slower ball I think we can handle him a bit easier.”

Sale, through to the play-offs for the first time since being crowned champions for the only time in 2006, are right to be wary of Simmonds.

Faf: "Once Exeter get on the front foot with a half-break Sam is gone. No-one’s catching him"
(Image: Getty Images)

He comes into the Sandy Park semi-final on the back of smashing the single-season Premiership scoring record with 20 tries.

But Exeter, who start Jack Nowell ahead of Stuart Hogg at fullback, will need to show every bit as much respect to De Klerk if the World Cup winner is not to end their reign as English rugby kingpins.

The 5’7 star brings an x-factor to the heavyweight clash and Sharks boss Alex Sanderson insists he is as up for this as he was for the World Cup final against England.

Sanderson: 'Everything is about us freeing him up: How can we let Faf be his magical unicorn self?'
(Image: PA)

Sanderson: 'Faf almost takes it back to the Jason Robinson idea that the opposition don’t know what you’re going to do and neither does your own team'
(Image: Getty)

“He’s such a competitor and feels he still has points to prove,” Sanderson said. “Maybe that’s through his height or through people assuming that, because he’s got lovely blonde hair, he’s a soft touch.

“He’s anything but. He’s a real fighter. Everything is about us freeing him up: How can we let him be his magical unicorn self?”

Sanderson added: “In a game that’s, seemingly, overrun by systems and shapes at times, Faf almost takes it back to the old-school – to the Jason Robinson idea that the opposition don’t know what you’re going to do and neither does your own team.

Sale Sharks director of rugby Alex Sanderson
(Image: PA)

“So we have this mind-set of anticipation around him. If you react, you are going to miss the push, so we try to be ready for anything when he’s on the ball.

“There’s a framework there, but it’s just as a means of giving him a launchpad to do what he does off it.”

Sale have no shortage of motivation after controversially losing their play-off chance a year ago to a Covid outbreak in their ranks.

Sanderson also claims that when his side played at Exeter last week “some of their injured players in their pre-match corporate were saying they were going to beat us by 30”.

Exeter: Nowell; Cuthbert, Slade, Devoto, O'Flaherty; J Simmonds (capt), Maunder; Hepburn, Cowan-Dickie, Williams, Gray, Hill, Kirsten, Capstick, S Simmonds.

Replacements: Yeandle, Moon, Street, Lonsdale, Armand, Townsend, H Skinner, Hogg.

Sale: Hammersley; McGuigan, S James, Tuilagi, Yarde; R du Preez, de Klerk; Harrison, Langdon, Oosthuizen, Wiese, J-L du Preez, T Curry (capt), B Curry, D du Preez.

Replacements: Ashman, Morozov, John, Phillips, Ross, Quirke, Wilkinson, Van Rensburg.