Tom Vickers’ Northampton Saints v Saracens preview

WINNING FEELING - Samu Manoa enjoys Saints' LV= Cup pool win over Saracens (Picture: Linda Dawson)
WINNING FEELING - Samu Manoa enjoys Saints' LV= Cup pool win over Saracens (Picture: Linda Dawson)

When you’ve got your foot on a dangerous opponent’s throat, the best thing to do is to maintain pressure.

Relieve it, and you are vulnerable to a counter-attack, with potentially devastating effects.

That is the situation Saints find themselves in this weekend as they get set to write the next chapter in their rivalry with Saracens.

Back in 2012, Sarries held the Indian Sign over Jim Mallinder’s men, winning all three meetings in that year.

It seemed like a mental block befell Saints every time they met the battle-hardened brigade from Barnet.

But after coming so close with the final kick of the game in the meeting at Milton Keynes in December of 2012 something has changed.

Be it a mentality shift, an increase in quality or a bit of both - Saints have turned the tables on a side pushing them hard for top spot in the Aviva Premiership this season.

Now it is Northampton who hold the upper hand, having won the past three meetings between the teams.

That includes a Premiership play-off semi-final, a league clash and, most recently, the LV= Cup pool stage encounter at Franklin’s Gardens last month.

Now the teams will do it all again as they scrap it out for a place in the LV= Cup final at Sandy Park next weekend.

The significance of winning the competition is often underrated, but, first and foremost, it is a piece of silverware.

The winners may or may not possess the best starting 15 in English rugby, but what it does highlight is the depth of a club’s squad.

With LV= Cup games always played when international stars are away, the competition gives fringe players and youngsters the chance to demonstrate their hunger and ability.

And that is exactly what those at Saints and Saracens have done this season.

Those two clubs’ squads are packed with pedigree, which is why they are currently one and two in the Premiership standings.

Which brings us back to the original point, with Saints facing the possibility of meeting Saracens in the play-offs come the end of the season.

Would they rather go into that game, potentially a Twickenham showpiece, having won the previous four meetings between the two sides, or on the back of a defeat in the most recent tussle?

The answer is definitely the former and while history doesn’t always dictate the future, it can play an important role in terms of mentality.

You only have to look at meetings between Saints and Leicester for justification of that point.

Up until the drawn match at Welford Road earlier this season, Tigers had won the previous nine east midlands derbies.

Have they always been the better side? No. But they have often held a mental edge.

When Saints have been ahead going into the closing stages of the game, doubts have crept in and the Tigers have roared back.

It is a fear factor that historically strong sides use to their advantage.

Manchester United did it for so long under the stewardship of Sir Alex Ferguson. Added time during which they scored late goals wasn’t called ‘Fergie time’ for nothing.

And it is no surprise they have failed to repeat that trick this season, with new man David Moyes in charge.

Ferguson, and the aura he created at Old Trafford, was almost worth an extra goal to his team.

Leicester possess the same level of intimidation, as illustrated back in October as they recovered from going 10 points down to claim that 19-19 draw against Saints at Welford Road.

Still Mallinder’s men search for that elusive win against their rivals to break that irksome mental cycle.

That is the position Saracens now find themselves in against Saints, albeit to a slightly lesser extent.

And it is important this talented group from the Gardens maintain their current grip on this fixture this weekend.