Northampton Saints v Gloucester: Tom Vickers' match preview
Fixture: Northampton Saints v Gloucester
Competition: Aviva Premiership
Venue: Franklin's Gardens, Northampton
Date: Saturday, January 6, 2018
Kick-off time: 3pm
Television coverage: BT Sport 3
Saints: Tuala; Foden, Horne, Burrell, Pisi; Mallinder, Groom; Ma'afu, Hartley (c), Ford-Robinson; Ratuniyarawa, Lawes; Wood, Gibson, Harrison.
Replacements: Haywood, Van Wyk, Brookes, Paterson, Nutley, Reinach, Grayson, Stephenson.
Gloucester: Marshall; Woodward, Trinder, Symons, Halaifonua; Williams, Heinz (c); Hohneck, Hanson, Afoa; Slater, Galarza; Ackermann, Polledri, Morgan.
Replacements: Matu'u, Orr, Balmain, Savage, Ludlow, Vellacott, Twelvetrees, Sharples.
Outs: Saints: Alex Waller (arm), Tom Collins (foot), Jamie Elliott (hamstring), Rory Hutchinson (back), George North (knee), Piers Francis (concussion), Stephen Myler (ribs), Nafi Tuitavake (calf)
Referee: Ian Tempest
Most recent meeting: Saturday, October 7, 2017: Gloucester 29 Saints 24 (Aviva Premiership)
Tom's preview: Saints will go full circle this Saturday as they face the team that started their slide.
Gloucester's victory against the green, black and gold at Kingsholm back on October 7 was the beginning of the end of a great start to the season.
Saints had won four successive games and headed to the west country in full song, seeking another success to cement their spot at the top of the Aviva Premiership standings.
But a porous defensive display, which saw the away side concede five tries - one from virtually every attack - ruined their day.
A late fightback fell short and Saints had to be satisfied with a losing bonus point, suffering their first defeat to Gloucester in 10 meetings between the teams.
And since then, things have gone from bad to worse.
They have lost 12 of their past 13 games with last Saturday's 50-21 evisceration at the hands of Harlequins surely the nadir.
Quins had lost five of their past six matches and had only won one of their previous 10 games against Saints.
But they ran riot in a rampant display at Twickenham, leaving Saints shellshocked as they reflected on yet another morale-crushing defeat.
Jim Mallinder's tenure ended three games ago and now Saints start a new era under coaching consultant Alan Gaffney, who has been drafted in until the end of the season.
Gaffney was impressive during the midweek media session, stressing his desire to bring confidence back to the squad.
He wants them to shed the fear that has blighted them and told them to back themselves and their decisions.
He wants bravery and hard work.
And if he gets that this weekend, Saints could get the better of a Gloucester team who have impressed so far this season.
They have finally achieved some stability under Johan Ackermann, a man Saints missed out on as he didn't want to play second fiddle to Mallinder.
And the fourth-placed Cherry and Whites are now realistic Premiership play-off contenders.
Gaffney still believes Saints can close the 15-point gap between the teams and mount a top-four challenge of their own.
Whether that belief can be realised in the months to come, it remains to be seen.
But what is not in doubt is how vital this weekend's fixture will be.
Saints face a break of more than a month from league action after the game against Gloucester.
And how they would love some precious points to propel them into the Champions Cup and Anglo-Welsh Cup with something to shout about.
At the start of a new year, Saints supporters are owed a fresh beginning and a big performance.
Now it is up to their players to deliver it.
Tom's prediction: Saints 30 Gloucester 22