Tom Vickers’ Leicester Tigers v Northampton Saints preview

GROUNDHOG DAY - Saints were beaten 16-12 at Welford Road last season and have not won at the ground since 2007 (picture by Linda Dawson)
GROUNDHOG DAY - Saints were beaten 16-12 at Welford Road last season and have not won at the ground since 2007 (picture by Linda Dawson)
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Plenty of water has passed under the bridge since Saints’ last visit to Welford Road - and there is now a wave of optimism sweeping Jim Mallinder’s men towards Saturday’s return.

Okay, so Leicester won when it mattered, claiming a 37-17 victory on a May afternoon at Twickenham that was washed away in a sea of controversy.

But Saints’ second-half showing in that clash should give them real belief that they can end a winless run against their rivals that now spans eight games.

Reduced to 14 men thanks to Dylan Hartley’s dismissal during the first-half imbroglio, the green, black and gold battled on, giving the Tigers a real scare before eventually falling on their sword.

There was a fearlessness about that final 40 minutes, and that is something they will hope to replicate on Saturday.

As Mallinder pointed out earlier this week: “We’ve got to go there and take them on.”

Saints cannot afford to sit back and be overawed because the game will be gone in the blink of an eye (see the March meeting at Franklin’s Gardens).

And this is a Northampton team that is best playing on the front foot.

One which thrives when the likes of George North and Luther Burrell are allowed to gallop at the opposition backline.

And there’s another thing that’s changed since that last meeting at Welford Road, when Saints racked up four penalties in a 16-12 defeat, but lacked penetration.

They now have more heavy artillery.

Last November’s game was played between two teams lacking their international stars.

This time, Saints have all of theirs at their disposal, with the addition of players such as North and Kahn Fotuali’i.

The arrival of the latter has brought the best out of Lee Dickson, who starts on Saturday, while the former has already scared the life out of Premiership defences with some brilliant bursts.

North will be one of six British & Irish stars on show this weekend, with Alex Corbisiero backing him up for Northampton and Tigers boasting the Youngs brothers, Tom and Ben, as well as Dan Cole and Geoff Parling.

But there will be no Tom Croft or Manu Tuilagi, men who ran the show in their side’s 36-8 win at the Gardens in March.

Tuilagi is perennially a thorn in the Saints side, getting in their faces (literally in the case of Chris Ashton) and the away team will be glad the England powerhouse is not playing.

So there you have it.

Plenty of reasons why Saints can end that winless run at Welford Road, which stretches back to a 10-9 win in February, 2007.

Now, all they need is some luck, some favourable refereeing decisions and every player to be at their best.

And they must keep their heads, because three cards in the previous three games against Tigers have hampered their cause greatly.

Last November it was Ryan Lamb who saw yellow as Saints’ chances of winning slipped away.

In March, it was Courtney Lawes who was sent to the bin as Tigers found their feet and ran riot.

And, what happened in May has already been mentioned and needs no repeating.

Saints have received four yellow cards already this season, and Mallinder admits he has spoken to his players about discipline in the lead up to this game.

They simply can’t afford to be on the wrong side of the referee - JP Doyle this time, as oppose to the traditionally appointed Wayne Barnes - again.

So, get that right, get the rub of the green and get every player playing to his potential and they have got a real chance.

Because that - and nothing less - is what it takes to win at Welford Road. Just ask the team of ‘07.