Tom Vickers’ Northampton Saints v Worcester Warriors preview

TOUGH TO TAKE - Saints suffered a last-gasp defeat to Worcester on first day of the season

TOUGH TO TAKE - Saints suffered a last-gasp defeat to Worcester on first day of the season

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Fixture: Northampton Saints v Worcester Warriors (Aviva Premiership - round 14)

Date/kick-off time: Saturday, February 27, 2.45pm

Weather forecast: 6C, cloudy

Referee: Matthew Carley

Saints: Foden; K Pisi, Burrell, Mallinder, Collins; Myler, Dickson (c); A Waller, Haywood, Brookes; Craig, Matfield; Gibson, Wood, Harrison.

Replacements: Marshall, E Waller, Denman, Dickinson, Fisher, Kessell, Hanrahan, G Pisi.

Worcester: Pennell; Heem, Olivier, Mills, Vuna; Heathcote, Hougaard; Rapava Ruskin, Bregvadze, Schonert; O’Callaghan, Barry; Potgieter, Kirwan, van Velze (c).

Replacements: Annett, Leleimalefaga, Johnston, Dowson, Baldwin, Lamb, Symons.

Outs: Saints: Clark (shoulder), Fotuali’i (hamstring), Hartley, Hill, Lawes, North (international duty).

Most recent meeting: Friday, October 16: Worcester Warriors 13 Saints 12 (Aviva Premiership - round one)

Tom’s preview: It’s time for Saints to make their minds up. Are they in or out?

No, this is not an extension of the Europe debate - it is about whether they can achieve their aim of remaining among England’s elite during this campaign.

The Saints have a proud record of making the Aviva Premiership play-offs in each of the past six seasons.

In fact, the last time they finished outside of the top four, Phil Dowson hadn’t even arrived at the club.

This weekend, the man who made 186 appearances during a six-year stay at Franklin’s Gardens, heads back there for a competitive game for the first time.

And Saints will need to show that there is life after Dowson, who never finished lower than fourth during his Northampton stint.

It was a remarkable record and one that owed much to the consistency in culture that the likes of Dylan Hartley and Dowson helped to establish.

He eventually decided it was time to move on last summer, with Worcester offering a two-year deal as opposed to the one-year contract that was tabled at Saints.

And now he will look to inflict a second defeat in as many games on his old club this weekend.

But Saints simply cannot let that happen if they are to retain hopes of maintaining that superb top-four record.

Having already lost to Saracens and Wasps at the Gardens this season, they can’t afford any more home defeats.

And having racked up their fifth league away loss, at Newcastle last Sunday, the margin for error is so slim.

They are still just five points off the top four, but with Saracens and Exeter flying in first and second and Wasps crushing all before them in third, the amount of places up for grabs is decreasing all the time.

So Saints know they must win and win well this weekend.

Another impressive display like the one against London Irish, when Saints won 35-7, two weeks ago would be so welcome.

And if they can achieve it, their exit from England’s top four would look less permanent.

Tom’s prediction: Saints 28 Worcester 10