Fixture: Newcastle Falcons v Northampton Saints (Aviva Premiership - round 15)
Date and kick-off time: Sunday, February 19, 2017, 3pm
Venue: Kingston Park, Newcastle upon Tyne
Newcastle Falcons: Tait; Goneva, Waldouck, Socino, Sinoti; Hodgson, Takulua; Vickers, Cooper, Welsh; Green, Robinson; M Wilson, Welch (c), Latu. Replacements: Lawson, Harris, S Wilson, Fonua, Olmstead, Egerton, Delany, Harris.
Saints: Tuala; K Pisi, Tuitavake, Mallinder, Foden (c); Myler, Groom; A Waller, Haywood, Brookes; Ratuniyarawa, Day; Gibson, Clark, Harrison. Replacements: Clare, E Waller, Hill, Paterson, Nutley, Dickson, Hutchinson, Estelles.
Outs: Saints: Tom Stephenson (leg), JJ Hanrahan (hand), Luther Burrell (ankle), George Pisi (shoulder), Jamie Elliott (shoulder), Dylan Hartley, Courtney Lawes, Tom Wood, Louis Picamoles, George North (international duty)
Referee: Greg Garner
Most recent meeting: Friday, November 25, 2016: Saints 16 Newcastle Falcons 22 (Aviva Premiership)
Tom’s preview: This week, Newcastle issued another signal of their intent.
The Falcons’ first recruit for next season was named, with France centre Maxime Mermoz, who is currently plying his trade at Leicester Tigers, the man signing on at Kingston Park.
It was another big statement from a club who have extremely high hopes for the future.
And not only that, they will be bullish about the here and now, too, sitting just six points off the top six.
They know a win against Saints take them up to seventh.
And, with home wins against the likes of Harlequins and Bath already under their belt this season, they will be full of confidence.
But Saints will have to stand tall in the face of that.
They desperately need to make sure they are not undone again, as they were by the Falcons at Franklin’s Gardens back in November.
On that gloomy Friday night, a red card for former Falcons prop Kieran Brookes proved costly.
It was one of the real low points in a tough season so far as the Falcons won at the Gardens for the first time since the 2008/09 campaign.
And Saints need no reminding that they cannot afford a repeat on Sunday.
Jim Mallinder’s men set a target of winning the four matches between the Anglo-Welsh Cup weeks.
And having lost to Bath in agonising fashion last Friday, they now have a new aim, of three wins from three.
The sides they face are currently all below them in the table.
And with a really tough run-in, Saints simply have to make ambition a reality.
But as outlined earlier, the Falcons are not grounded easily these days.
Especially during international windows, when they lose fewer players than the traditional top six sides.
While Saints are without their marquee men, Louis Picamoles and George North, and their England contingent, Newcastle do not have the same issues.
And that levels the playing field, just as it did in November.
But as the Falcons showed against Bath recently, they don’t need any extra help in beating a supposed bigger club at home.
And Saints will have to be on their guard on Sunday.
Tom’s prediction: Newcastle Falcons 25 Saints 20