Tom Vickers’ Northampton Saints versus Leicester Tigers preview

POSITION OF STRENGTH - Saints director of rugby Jim Mallinder will be hoping his team can repeat their play-off semi-final win over Leicester Tigers
POSITION OF STRENGTH - Saints director of rugby Jim Mallinder will be hoping his team can repeat their play-off semi-final win over Leicester Tigers

Fixture: Northampton Saints v Leicester Tigers (Aviva Premiership round 10)

Date/kick-off time: Saturday, December 20, 3.15pm

Venue: Franklin’s Gardens

Weather forecast: 8C, partly cloudy

Saints: Wilson; K Pisi, Stephenson, Burrell, North; Myler, Fotuali’i; A Waller, Hartley (c), Ma’afu; Lawes, Day; Clark, Wood, Manoa.

Replacements: Haywood, E Waller, Denman, Dickinson, Dowson, Dickson, Elliott, Foden.

Leicester: Tait; Scully, Smith, Allen, Goneva; Williams, B Youngs; Ayerza, T Youngs, Cole; Kitchener, Parling; Croft, Salvi, Crane.

Replacements: Ghiraldini, Rizzo, Balmain, De Chaves, Barbieri, Harrison, Burns, Benjamin.

Outs: Saints: Corbisiero (shoulder), Fisher (toe). Leicester: Brad Thorn (calf), Manu Tuilagi (groin)

Most recent meeting: Friday, May 16: Saints 21 Leicester 20 (Aviva Premiership play-off semi-final)

Tom’s preview: This weekend, there will be an east midlands derby between the Aviva Premiership champions and their plucky rivals.

Nothing new there then, except this time the tables have turned.

No longer are Leicester the club ruling this particular roost.

Instead it is Saints who boast the most recent title triumph.

Jim Mallinder’s men have waited years to be able to laud it over Leicester, who have held the bragging rights for longer than many can remember.

They had gone 10 east midlands derbies without defeat before, finally, the hoodoo was broken by a Tom Wood try so magical it appeared written in the stars.

The nearly men had shed their bridesmaids tag, ending a 14-year wait for a major trophy.

And now it is Leicester who are lacking the sweet smell of success in their nostrils.

The Tigers, who beat Saints in the Premiership final in 2013, are 10 points off the top in the current Premiership standings going into this game, and it could be more.

League leaders Saints have played with a swagger for large parts of this season, while Leicester have been reliant on their grit to get them over the line on a couple of occasions.

Make no mistake, the Tigers are still a huge force to be reckoned with.

They still possess a fearsome mentality, as displayed in the recent Champions Cup win against Toulon at Welford Road.

They are scared of no one and there is every chance they will again be in the hunt for honours when the Premiership’s top four teams scrap it out in May.

But this is no longer a Tigers team for Saints to fear.

Instead, it is they who have the better squad, the winning mentality and the more recently replenished trophy cabinet.

They top the table in every competition they have entered this season and have been scoring points for fun in recent weeks.

Saracens, London Welsh and Treviso (twice) have felt their wrath.

And though Tigers are far more talented than two of those three teams, Saints should expect another win this weekend.

No longer are they the plucky underdogs, scrapping to dethrone the champions.

They are the ones to beat - and they will want to show why at Franklin’s Gardens on Saturday.

Tom’s prediction: Saints 25 Leicester 17