Bristol Bears v Northampton Saints: Tom Vickers' big match preview
Fixture: Bristol Bears v Northampton Saints
Competition: Gallagher Premiership
Venue: Ashton Gate, Bristol
Date and kick-off time: Friday, November 26, 2021, 7.45pm
Weather forecast: 5c, cloudy
Live television coverage: None
Referee: Karl Dickson
Bristol Bears: Piutau; Fricker, O'Conor, Leiua, Purdy; Sheedy, Uren; Woolmore, Kerr, Lahiff; Joyce, Vui; Jeffries, Heenan (c), Harding.
Replacements: Capon, Y Thomas, Kloska, Hawkins, D Thomas, Whiteley, Bedlow, Adeolokun.
Saints: Furbank; Freeman, Proctor, Dingwall, Skosan; Biggar, Mitchell; Waller, Fish, Hill; Ribbans, Moon; Lawes, Ludlam (c), Augustus.
Replacements: Matavesi, Iyogun, Carey, Ratuniyarawa, Wilkins, James, Hutchinson, Gillespie.
Not considered for Saints selection: Matthew Arden, Callum Burns, Piers Francis, Teimana Harrison, Oisín Heffernan, Dani Long-Martinez, Taqele Naiyaravoro, Kayde Sylvester, Ahsee Tuala, Tom Wood.
Most recent meeting: Sunday, March 21, 2021: Saints 21 Bristol Bears 28 (Gallagher Premiership)
Tom's preview: Buckle up, Saints fans - because during the next 10 weeks your side's fate is likely to go a long way to being decided.
George Furbank admitted this week that boss Chris Boyd has labelled this lengthy block of games as season-defining, and it's hard to argue with that.
Because before they finally get a weekend off at the start of February - it is their second Premiership bye week of the season - Saints face 10 incredibly tough matches at home and abroad.
They play four Champions Cup matches, home and away to Ulster and Racing 92, and they also have six league encounters.
And the likelihood is that if the bookies are offering odds, Saints will only be favourites to win one of those games - the home encounter against struggling Bath next weekend.
That is how tough the fixture list that awaits Boyd's boys is.
And it all starts at Bristol on Friday night.
Ashton Gate is never an easy place to go these days, but the difficulty level seems to go up a notch under the lights.
Bristol welcome decent crowds who make decent noise, and with the home side keen to play a free-flowing style, it can at times be electric.
Saints will have to find a way to slow them down, while speeding up their own game.
They go to Ashton Gate on the back of a four-match losing streak, but the return of some huge international names will be very welcome this week.
Saints will need all of the experience that men like Courtney Lawes and Dan Biggar have to offer.
And with the likes of George Furbank and Alex Mitchell playing in front of 80,000 people at Twickenham recently, they will hope those players can step up here also.
It will be far from an easy task as the old adage that there are no easy games in this league starts to ring true from here on in.
But with Bristol missing home huge players, such as Semi Radradra and Kyle Sinckler, Saints have to take advantage.
Because if they can't win at Bristol this week, then when can they?
And if they are to harbour any realistic hopes of finishing in the top four this season, these are the kind of games they really have to win.
Whether they can, it remains to be seen.
But whatever happens, with the way both of these teams like to play, it's unlikely to be boring.
Tom's prediction: Every away game in the Premiership is tough this season, but Bristol are missing some huge players while Saints are welcoming several back. It's a chance for the black, green and gold to grab a win, but will they take it? I think they might. Bristol 27 Saints 32.