Northampton Saints v Gloucester: Tom Vickers' big match preview
Fixture: Northampton Saints v Gloucester
Competition: Gallagher Premiership (round 18)
Venue: Franklin's Gardens, Northampton
Date and kick-off time: Saturday, May 8, 2021, 2pm
Weather: 13c, light rain
Live television coverage: BT Sport 2 and Channel 5
Referee: Ian Tempest
Saints: Furbank; Proctor, Hutchinson, Francis, Freeman; Biggar, James; Waller (cc), Matavesi, Hill; Ribbans, Ratuniyarawa; Wood, Ludlam (cc), Harrison.
Replacements: Fish, Auterac, Painter, Moon, Adendorff, Taylor, Dingwall, Naiyaravoro.
Gloucester: Moyle; Rees-Zammit, Kveseladze, Atikinson, Carreras; Twelvetrees, Chapman; Rapava-Ruskin, Singleton, Balmain; Slater, Alemanno; Reid, Ludlow (c), Ackermann.
Replacements: Socino, Ford-Robinson, O'Connor, Morgan, Clement, Heinz, Barton, Seabrook.
Outs: Saints: Owen Franks (foot), Mikey Haywood (hand), Danny Hobbs-Awoyemi (Achilles), Nick Isiekwe (pectoral), Courtney Lawes (pectoral), Alex Mitchell (ankle), Ryan Olowofela (ankle), Ollie Sleightholme (back), Kayde Sylvester (Achilles).
Most recent meeting: Saturday, January 30, 2021: Gloucester 26 Saints 31
Tom's preview: If you had told Saints they would be within touching distance of the top four with five games to go when they went to Kingsholm in January, they would have been overjoyed.
Because when they travelled to Gloucester for their first fixture of 2021, there was a huge cloud of uncertainty hanging over Chris Boyd’s side.
Yes, they had beaten Worcester Warriors on Boxing Day, but their next two Gallagher Premiership games were called off due to Covid-19 and you felt any small amount of momentum they had built up may dissipate pretty quickly.
However, that wasn’t to be the case as, on an ice-cold afternoon at Kingsholm, Saints showed they were starting to heat up.
They bagged a bonus-point win against the beleaguered Cherry and Whites, with Shaun Adendorff scoring twice during the second half.
And, that fixture included, Saints have now won six of their seven away games in 2021, having lost their final seven matches on their travels in 2020.
It has been some turnaround and one that has catapulted them onto the coat-tails of the top four.
Going into this weekend’s game against Gloucester at Franklin’s Gardens, Saints sit fifth, four points adrift of fourth-placed Harlequins and five behind third-placed Sale Sharks.
Each side has a tough run-in to contend with, starting this weekend.
And Saints will be delighted to be in the mix as they battle to book their place in the end-of-season play-offs.
But there will not be any satisfaction if the bid falls short this season.
This is a club that expects to regularly be in the play-offs and compete for titles.
Some may say they are miles away from Bristol Bears and Exeter Chiefs, especially if you look at the current league table.
But Saints have beaten Exeter this season and they should have beaten Bristol, too. Probably twice.
So there is no doubt they can compete with those teams on their day.
And as has been shown so many times in Premiership history, once you book your play-off place, anything can happen.
No one gave the black, green and gold a hope when they headed to Saracens for a semi-final in 2013, but Jim Mallinder's men delivered a dominant display, and a win, at Allianz Park that day.
So the message is clear: just make the final four and take it from there.
Saints are seven wins from the title, but potentially one defeat from dropping out of contention.
It is a real tightrope they are walking in the final stages of the season.
But it is preferable to the one you felt they might be left balancing on when they were enduring such tough times in 2020.
Those difficulties have bred extra character among the squad at Saints, and they will need every ounce of that over the coming weeks.
If they can keep their cool, they can make this season count for something.
Tom's prediction: Gloucester are far better than their league position suggests and they have so many attacking threats. Saints also have plenty of weapons at their disposal so this weekend's game should be a real cracker. Saints 35 Gloucester 31.