Tom Vickers’ Bath v Northampton Saints preview

TOUGH BATTLE - Saints were winners over Bath when the teams met at Franklin's Gardens in December, but it was hard graft (Picture: Kelly Cooper)
TOUGH BATTLE - Saints were winners over Bath when the teams met at Franklin's Gardens in December, but it was hard graft (Picture: Kelly Cooper)

There is a school of thought that Saints might just be better off losing at Bath on Friday night.

Why? Because Jim Mallinder’s men can afford one more slip in their final two games and, should they suffer a defeat at the Recreation Ground, it could help them avoid Leicester in the play-offs.

There is some logic to this suggestion.

After all, if you were to pick a fight with a big bloke, you’d rather take on the one you’d knocked down in your past five meetings than the one who had his foot on your throat for the previous 10.

But the theory falls down simply because Saints are not in a position to pick their Premiership semi-final opponents.

All they can control is where they will play the tie.

What Leicester and Bath, who would still present a massive threat to Northampton’s chances of making Twickenham, do is up to them.

Saints can only book home advantage, then worry about who they will face when the clash comes round on the third weekend of May.

Consequently, Mallinder has opted to field his strongest possible side as he bids to put matters to bed at Bath this week.

He won’t want to be fretting over a last-day battle with a Wasps side who pushed Saints so close in the meeting between the teams back in December.

Saints want it done now. They don’t need unnecessary pressure piled on to their final game of the regular season and they know they could use that final game to rest and rotate.

But they have it all to do if they are to ensure that isn’t the case.

Bath, so often viewed as a team of individuals, are now a picture of togetherness.

They have married speed and skill with strength and unity, as shown in the thrilling game at Franklin’s Gardens in the final showdown of 2013.

Bath had won their previous 11 games going into that clash and were 13-0 up before Saints stepped things up and surged to an impressive success.

Mike Ford’s men, like Saints, have developed a consistency that has ensured they will be in the frame for honours in May.

They have won 26 of their 33 games this season, with Saints winning 26 of their 34, though it must be pointed out that the men from the Gardens played in the Heineken Cup pool stages while Bath were in the Amlin Challenge Cup from the off.

The two teams will contest the Challenge Cup final at Cardiff on May 23 and Bath know one more league win will secure a shot at the Premiership play-offs.

And they, like Saints, will be desperate to set things in stone on Friday.

It will make for a full-blooded battle between two teams that won’t hold back, no matter what the consequences are.