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

Saints beat Bristol in the Premiership Rugby Cup clash at Franklin's Gardens in October
Saints beat Bristol in the Premiership Rugby Cup clash at Franklin's Gardens in October

Fixture: Northampton Saints v Bristol Bears

Competition: Gallagher Premiership (round 16)

Venue: Franklin's Gardens, Northampton

Date and kick-off time: Saturday, March 9, 2019, 2.45pm

Referee: Christophe Ridley (12th Premiership game)

Television coverage: None

Saints: Furbank; Tuala, Hutchinson, Francis, Naiyaravoro; Grayson, Reinach; van Wyk, Marshall, Hill; Moon, Ribbans; Wood (c), Ludlam, Eadie.
Replacements: Fish, Waller, Ford-Robinson, Ratuniyarawa, Gibson, Mitchell, Burrell, Collins.

Bristol Bears: C Piutau; Morahan, O’Conor, S Piutau (cc), Daniels; Sheedy, Uren; Thomas, Thacker, Afoa; Batley, Vui; Luatua, Heenan, Crane (cc).
Replacements: Parry, Woolmore, Thiede, Smith, Lam, Randall, Madigan, Protheroe.

Outs: Saints: Andy Symons (knee), Harry Mallinder (knee), Mikey Haywood (knee), Dylan Hartley (knee), Teimana Harrison (hamstring), Ehren Painter (calf), Courtney Lawes (calf), Paddy Ryan (knee), James Haskell (toe), Fraser Dingwall (ankle), Dan Biggar (international duty).

Most recent meeting: Saturday, October 27, 2018: Saints 51 Bristol Bears 24 (Premiership Rugby Cup pool stages)

Tom's preview: Franklin's Gardens has certainly been a happy home for Saints in 2019.

Five games, five wins and a staggering 311 points (an average of 62 per game!) have been registered by Chris Boyd's men on home soil since the turn of the year.

While they have lost all three away matches in 2019, the home comforts have remained.

And Saints will fully expect that to continue this weekend as they look to enhance their Premiership play-off credentials once more.

Last Saturday's defeat at Saracens was largely comprehensive, but there were more signs of the character this squad possesses.

And they will be backed to rediscover the winning habit against a Bristol side who will come to play this Saturday.

It should make for a hugely entertaining encounter once again against the Bears, who have shipped 96 points in two defeats to Saints already this season.

Both teams have showed a real desire to play from anywhere in those two matches - and that is unlikely to change when they square up again this weekend.

Bristol pose plenty of threats, as they showed when beating Gloucester last weekend.

And Saints fans will enjoy welcoming them and club legend Pat Lam to the Gardens this weekend.

But they will enjoy it even more if the recent trend of Gardens wins continues.

Saints have really started to make the ground a place opposition teams fear to tread.

Not in the old way of grinding them down up front but in the new style of cutting them apart with an all-court game.

The forwards have shown real ability to play, with offloads from the likes of Tom Wood, Jamie Gibson and Lewis Ludlam catching the eye in recent times.

And Saints will once again hope to win in entertaining fashion this weekend.

If they can, they will be in a great position in the Premiership when they return to league action at Leicester Tigers on March 22.

And a win would also help them to banish last week's disappointment before Saracens come to town for the Premiership Rugby Cup final next Sunday.

It is another big game at a stadium that has got its buzz back.

Now Saints have to keep the Franklin's Gardens feelgood factor flowing over what will be a crucial two weeks in this enthralling season.

Tom's prediction: Saints 34 Bristol Bears 23

Andrew Kellaway scored in Saints' win at Bristol in September

Andrew Kellaway scored in Saints' win at Bristol in September