Tom Vickers’ Leinster v Northampton Saints preview

Ethan Waller starts for Saints (picture: Kirsty Edmonds)
Ethan Waller starts for Saints (picture: Kirsty Edmonds)
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Fixture: Leinster v Northampton Saints (Champions Cup Pool 4)

Date and kick-off time: Saturday, December 17, 2016, 7.45pm

Venue: Aviva Stadium, Dublin

Leinster: Kirchner; A Byrne, Ringrose, Henshaw, Nacewa (c); R Byrne, L McGrath; J McGrath, Cronin, Furlong; Toner, Triggs; O’Brien, van der Flier, Heaslip.

Replacements: Tracy, Healy, Bent, Ruddock, Conan, Gibson-Park, Reid, O’Loughlin.

Saints: Tuala; K Pisi, G Pisi (c), Hanrahan, Collins; Myler, Groom; E Waller, Clare, Brookes; Craig, Ratuniyarawa; Gibson, Clark, Harrison.

Replacements: Fish, A Waller, Hill, Paterson, Nutley, Kessell, Hutchinson, Wilson.

Outs: Saints: Dylan Hartley (suspended - week one of six), Tom Stephenson (broken leg), Harry Mallinder (ankle), George North (concussion)

Referee: Romain Poite (France)

Most recent meeting: Friday, December 9, 2016: Saints 10 Leinster 37 (Champions Cup Pool 4)

Tom’s preview: Three years ago, 23 men marched to Dublin and pocketed one of the great wins in their club’s history.

They showed resolve, defiance, grit, determination and real character in the heat of battle.

And eventually, they got their rewards, returning to Northampton having restored their own reputation as players and the standing of their club.

Those men were Saints’ class of 2013/14, a group who would eventually go on to win a first Aviva Premiership title for the Franklin’s Gardens outfit, and an Amlin Challenge Cup.

Jim Mallinder, the man at the helm then as he is now, and his coaches mastermined a Lazarus-like recovery after a 40-7 evisceration by Leinster in Northampton a week earlier.

And the sight of Jamie Elliott streaking clear after a sustained spell of pressure on the Saints line at the denouement of the Dublin encounter was one that won’t be forgotten.

Naturally, talk of that try and that win has been common at the Gardens this week, if only among the media.

Saints may appear to lack the kind of weaponry they had on this weekend three years ago, but they have to believe.

And they simply have to bring some pride back to the town after last Friday’s 37-10 defeat to Leinster on home turf.

Mallinder’s men performed well in short spells in that game, but it always looked like Leinster would win it.

And it was mission impossible at 20-10 down as Dylan Hartley saw red.

Hartley won’t be available this weekend or, indeed, until January 23, but Saints still have some forwards capable of competing.

And if their attacking game can grind into gear, which is hasn’t on the majority of occasions this season, then they have a chance.

They have been largely toothless during this campaign, scoring the fewest tries of any team in the Premiership.

But on Saturday night in Dublin, they must be ruthless.

Any sniff they get must be turned into points.

And if they have to attempt a cheeky drop goal here and there, as Kahn Fotuali’i did in that Dublin fixture in 2013, then so be it.

Saints have to show ambition when they get the chance to, and they have to hold onto the ball as much as possible rather than kicking into their clutches of the home side.

If they can start to bring doubts to Leinster that history is repeating itself, then the door to victory could just open.

It appears a hugely unlikely prospect.

But then it did in 2013, too.

Saints have the slogan ‘Heart. Pride. Passion.’ stitched into their shirts, and they will need all three qualities on Saturday night.

It won’t be easy, but nothing worth getting ever is.

And if Saints can just produce a positive performance, they could start to turn their season around.

But we said that last week, and the week before.

Now is the time to do it.

Even if they don’t win, they must deliver that Dublin defiance to the best of their ability.

And, put simply, they have to make the supporters feel proud of their team again, just as they were on that magical night three years ago.

Tom’s prediction: Leinster 25 Saints 15