Northampton Saints v Bath: Tom Vickers' big match preview
Fixture: Northampton Saints v Bath
Competition: Gallagher Premiership
Venue: cinch Stadium at Franklin's Gardens, Northampton
Date and kick-off time: Saturday, December 4, 2021, 3pm
Weather forecast: 6c, mostly cloudy
Live television coverage: None
Referee: Karl Dickson
Saints: Furbank; Freeman, Dingwall, Hutchinson, Skosan; Biggar, Mitchell; Waller, Matavesi, Painter; Ribbans, Moon; Wilkins, Ludlam (c), Augustus.
Replacements: Fish, Auterac, Hill, Ratuniyarawa, Coles, James, Litchfield, Sleightholme.
Bath: De Glanville; Rokoduguni, Butt, Ojomoh, Muir; Cipriani, Spencer; Boyce, Dunn, Stuart; McNally, Ewels (c), Ellis, Underhill, Bayliss.
Replacements: du Toit, Vaughan Rae, Williams, de Carpentier, Richards, Fox, Hamer-Webb.
Not considered for Saints selection: Callum Burns, Piers Francis, Teimana Harrison, Oisin Heffernan, Courtney Lawes, Dani Long-Martinez, Taqele Naiyaravoro, Matt Proctor, Kayde Sylvester.
Most recent meeting: Saturday, June 12, 2021: Bath 30 Saints 24 (Gallagher Premiership)
Tom's preview: Something’s got to give at the Gardens on Saturday.
Because while Bath have lost all eight of their Gallagher Premiership games this season, Saints have been beaten in each of their past four meetings with the West Country side.
In fact, Bath’s most recent league win came against Saints at The Rec on the final day of last season.
And it’s fair to say they have become something of a bogey team for Chris Boyd’s men.
Saints have often struggled to deal with Bath’s physicality, with one meeting yielding the memorable Stuart Hooper quote: “They don’t want to scrum, do they.”
Hooper said that during a live broadcast on BT and it was a barb aimed in the direction of a Saints side who, at the time, were struggling somewhat at the set piece as they gave it less overall value than they do today.
But much has changed since then, so much so that Saints took Bristol Bears apart at the scrum last Friday night.
The black, green and gold ground their hosts into the Ashton Gate turf, winning penalty after penalty with push after push, particularly at Bristol put-ins.
Yes, the Bears were without key men, but you can only beat what is in front of you - and Saints more than did that.
They used their scrum as a platform for an impressive 36-20 win that moved them back into the Gallagher Premiership play-off places.
And now they know they have to back it up.
As Boyd said succinctly after last Friday night’s game: “We have to.”
But Saints have been here before against Bath, who spoiled the party after the black, green and gold had claimed a superb win at Exeter last season.
Hooper’s side proved pesky as they overcame a shocking start to win 23-22 at the Gardens in February.
And what they would give for a repeat this time round.
For Saints though, it is time to prove that they can be consistent.
Too often in the recent past they have taken one step forward and two backwards.
If they want to be realistic top-four challengers they must change that unwelcome habit.
And this is a big chance to show that they can.
Tom's prediction: Bath may have lost all of their Premiership games this season but they always make it tough for Saints, and this is unlikely to be any different. The black, green and gold certainly won't have it all their own way, but with the momentum from the win against Bristol Bears behind them, they have to get the job done here. Saints 28 Bath 21.