Tom Vickers’ Northampton Saints v Gloucester preview

Salesi Ma'afu will square up to his former club on Saturday (picture: Sharon Lucey)
Salesi Ma'afu will square up to his former club on Saturday (picture: Sharon Lucey)

Fixture: Northampton Saints v Gloucester (Anglo-Welsh Cup - game two)

Date and kick-off time: Saturday, November 12, 2016, 3pm.

Venue: Franklin’s Gardens, Northampton

Saints: Wilson; Elliott, Burrell, Hutchinson, Collins; Olver, Kessell; E Waller, Clare, Hill; J Onojaife, Craig; Gibson, Ludlum, Dickinson (c).

Replacements: Fish, Beesley, Denman, Paterson, Harrison, Nutley, Dickson, Foden.

Gloucester: L Evans; Protheroe, Purdy, Creed, Thorley; Burns, Braley; Y Thomas, Walker, Ma’afu; Batley, Latta; Ludlow (c), G Thomas, G Evans.

Replacements: Mullis, Hohneck, Knight, Beckett, Clarke, Vellacott, Hudson, Safe.

Outs: Saints: Tom Stephenson (broken leg), JJ Hanrahan (ankle), Harry Mallinder (ankle), Dylan Hartley, Courtney Lawes, Tom Wood, Louis Picamoles, George North, Nafi Tuitavake, Api Ratuniyarawa, Campese Ma’afu, George Pisi, Ken Pisi (all international duty)

Referee: Craig Evans

Most recent meeting: Friday, October 28, 2016: Saints 23 Gloucester 20 (Aviva Premiership)

Tom’s preview: For Saints’ youngsters, there is one more audition.

One more shot before the big stage looms large on the horizon.

The likes of Jordan Onojaife and Lewis Ludlum know that if they can maintain the level of performance they showed at Newcastle last weekend, a crack at the Premiership could be coming their way at Worcester Warriors next Friday night.

Because with Saints shorn of plenty of internationals this autumn, places in the squad for league matches are up for grabs.

And if Onojaife, Ludlum and Co can help to bulldoze Gloucester in front of a sizeable support at Franklin’s Gardens this weekend, the door to top division rugby may just open.

Saints do, of course, still have plenty of senior players to choose from for next week’s game at Sixways.

But with the coaches keen to keep morale high, they are open to persuasion.

And there would be no better way to convince them than to get tongues wagging at the Gardens this weekend.

The Saints supporters relish seeing the auditions of players who have come through the club’s Academy, almost as much as some people look forward watching Honey G on X Factor on a Saturday night.

And that, in part, explains why Saints will welcome a record Anglo-Welsh Cup crowd this weekend.

With fresh faces, comes fresh excitement, and there is a lot of anticipation about what the likes of Rory Hutchinson and Ludlum can bring to the party.

Plenty of the youngsters have already had first-team exposure in seasons gone by, and for them it is about taking that next step.

It is about trying to show that they are worthy of a spot in the squad each week, rather than just when the Anglo-Welsh Cup comes round.

They will have a challenge in front of them this weekend, with Gloucester’s young guns on a high after firing in the second half of their game against Saracens.

The much-changed Cherry and Whites stormed back from 25-5 down at the break to win 36-32 at Kingsholm.

And with the pressure off for both them and Saints this weekend, supporters should see a more entertaining encounter than the nervy Premiership clash between the two clubs a couple of weeks ago.

It is all set up to be a game worth watching, and for Saints’ stars of tomorrow, it is time to show they are ready to peform in the present, not just the future.

Tom’s prediction: Saints 32 Gloucester 11