Northampton Saints v Bristol Bears: Tom Vickers' big match preview

James Grayson is given the chance to run the show for Saints on Saturday (picture: Kirsty Edmonds)
James Grayson is given the chance to run the show for Saints on Saturday (picture: Kirsty Edmonds)

Fixture: Northampton Saints v Bristol Bears

Competition: Premiership Rugby Cup (pool stages)

Venue: Franklin's Gardens, Northampton

Date and kick-off time: Saturday, October 27, 2018, 2pm

Referee: Shaun Harding

Television coverage: None

Saints: Furbank; Sleightholme, Dingwall, Burrell, Worley; Grayson, Mitchell; van Wyk, Marshall, Garside; Barrow, Moon; Wood (c), Ludlam, Eadie.

Replacements: Haywood, Davis, Higgins, Craig, Onojaife, Davies, Strachan, Kellaway.

Bristol Bears: Pincus; Powell, Bedlow, Pisi (cc), Perkins; Madigan, Stirzaker; Lay, Lindsay, Thomas, Ehizode, Batley, Lam, Heenan, Crane (cc).

Replacements: Capon, Cosgrove, Armstrong, Hawkins, Dun, Cullen, Eden, Lloyd.

Outs: Saints: Paul Hill (shoulder), Rory Hutchinson (knee), Toby Trinder (foot), Ken Pisi (shoulder), Nafi Tuitavake (neck), Andy Symons (knee), Jamal Ford-Robinson (knee), Tom Emery (ankle), Harry Mallinder (knee), James Haskell (ankle).

Most recent meeting: Saturday, October 29, 2018: Bristol Bears 40 Saints 45 (Gallagher Premiership)

Tom's preview: Last season, Saints used the domestic cup competition to prop up their season.

Never looking likely to secure silverware in the Premiership or in Europe, the Anglo-Welsh Cup provided a realistic chance of a trophy.

Saints didn't quite manage to secure it, losing in the semi-finals at Bath, but it was another example of how seriously they viewed the competition.

Yes, they haven't made the final since 2014 and haven't won it since 2010, but Saints have always been in it to win it in the Anglo-Welsh Cup, LV= Cup or whatever you want to call it.

However, this time round, their approach looks to be different.

Although they would obviously rather win that lose, results have been relegated in the list of priorities.

Instead, new boss Chris Boyd will be using the competition to take a closer look at fringe players as well as talented teens that are emerging from the club's Academy.

It is supposed to be a development competition, and that is what Saints will use it for: to develop players for the more serious matter of the Premiership in the months to come.

Boyd will, of course, be hoping his players play well and win.

But if they can't do the latter, he will at least hope to see enough promise to suggest a bright future at Franklin's Gardens.

He has already made it clear that players are playing for contracts.

Winning the tournament is not the most important thing, winning the hearts of the coaches is.

Big days in front of decent crowds will await for some young players over the next few weeks.

And it will also be a big chance for key first-team players to rest up ahead of some crucial Premiership games, starting with the home clash with Wasps on November 17.

Saints face a real fight in England's top division, with no team showing early signs of being a relegation certainty.

So the next few weeks are about young players showing they can be relied upon to add depth to a squad that is currently stretched by a plethora of injury problems.

Boyd is not shy of giving young players a go, so those who take to the field in the inaugural Premiership Rugby Cup know that if they impress, their stay in the first-team squad could be extended.

It is certainly all to play for, and there is no doubt the Franklin's Gardens faithful will look forward to seeing the next generation in action.

The Academy is churning out more players than ever before, with many of them making their way into matchday squads this season.

And there will be plenty more homegrown representation in the matches that really matter if things go well over the next few weeks.

Tom's prediction: Saints 35 Bristol Bears 28