Tom Vickers’ Northampton Saints v Saracens preview

Dylan Hartley celebrates Alex Waller's winning try in last season's Aviva Premiership final (Picture: Linda Dawson)
Dylan Hartley celebrates Alex Waller's winning try in last season's Aviva Premiership final (Picture: Linda Dawson)

Fixture: Northampton Saints v Saracens (Aviva Premiership - round 20)

Date/kick-off time: Saturday, April 25, 3.15pm

Venue: stadium:mk

Weather forecast: 17C, mostly sunny

Referee: Greg Garner

Saints: Tuala; K Pisi, G Pisi, Burrell, Elliott; Myler, Fotuali’i; Corbisiero, Hartley (c), Ma’afu; Lawes, Day; Wood, Clark, Manoa.

Replacements: Haywood, A Waller, Denman, Dickinson, Fisher, Dickson, Stephenson, Wilson.

Saracens: Goode; Strettle, Bosch, Barritt (c), Wyles; Hodgson, de Kock; M Vunipola, Brits, Johnston; Kruis, Itoje; Joubert, Brown, B Vunipola.

Replacements: George, Gill, Longbottom, Hamilton, Wray, Wigglesworth, Farrell, Ashton.

Outs: Saints: Ben Foden (knee), George North (concussion).

Most recent meeting: Saturday, March 14: Saracens 24 Saints 20 (LV= Cup semi-final)

Tom’s preview: The knock-out rugby might not start for a few weeks, but the chance to land a telling blow against a title rival is already here.

This Saturday, Saints know that victory against Saracens would all but secure a top-two spot, piling the pressure on the Barnet-based outfit in the process.

On the flip side of the coin, Saracens know that should they win, they will narrow the current six-point gap to Jim Mallinder’s table-toppers.

And that could mean that Saints, who will surely beat London Welsh with a try bonus point two weeks later, could still face a tense final-day tussle at local rivals, Leicester Tigers.

That is a prospect that doesn’t bear thinking about, with Tigers still gunning for a top-four place.

They will also be desperate to avenge their December disappointment at Franklin’s Gardens, when their 15 men weren’t good enough to beat a spirited Saints 14.

And they would like nothing more than to make Mallinder’s men travel in the bid to reach Twickenham.

But Saints can wipe away any worry of that prospect if they win in Milton Keynes this weekend.

And they know they must up their game significantly if they are to avoid taking a wrong turn in the land of roundabouts.

Saracens scrapped all the way at Clermont Auvergne last Saturday, almost showing Saints, who were thrashed by the French team, how to do it.

But as it was, Mark McCall’s side were beaten 13-9 - and Saints will hope they are still nursing a European hangover at stadium:mk.

Last May, Alex Waller popped up in the dying seconds of extra-time in the Aviva Premiership final to take advantage of the tiredness Sarries were feeling.

Back then, they had been left battered a bruised - mentally and physically - by a Heineken Cup final defeat to Toulon seven days earlier.

This time, they will be out to ensure that the Clermont near miss doesn’t have the same knock-on effect.

But needless to say, Saints will try to steal every inch they can in a game that could go a long way to deciding the destination of this year’s title.

Tom’s prediction: Saints 17 Saracens 15