Northampton Saints v Gloucester: Tom Vickers' big match preview
Fixture: Northampton Saints v Gloucester
Competition: Gallagher Premiership (round one)
Venue: cinch Stadium at Franklin's Gardens, Northampton
Date and kick-off time: Saturday, September 18, 2021, 3pm
Weather forecast: 21c, mostly cloudy
Live television coverage: None
Referee: Karl Dickson (45th Premiership game)
Saints: Furbank; Proctor, Dingwall, Hutchinson, Collins; Grayson, Mitchell; Waller, Fish, Painter; Ribbans, Moon; Wood, Ludlam (c), Harrison.
Replacements: Haywood, Auterac, Hill, Ratuniyarawa, Augustus, Tupai, Tuala, Coles.
Not considered for Saints selection: Matthew Arden, Dan Biggar, Callum Burns, Piers Francis, Tommy Freeman, Tom James, Courtney Lawes, Tom Lockett, Reece Marshall, Sam Matavesi, Taqele Naiyaravoro, Ollie Newman, Brandon Nansen, Ollie Sleightholme, JJ Tonks, Karl Wilkins.
Gloucester: Moyle; May, Seabrook, Twelvetrees, Thorley; Evans, Meehan; Elrington, Singleton, Balmain; Morgan, Davidson; Reid, Ludlow (c), Clement.
Replacements: Walker, Ford-Robinson, Gotovtsev, Clarke, Ackermann, Varney, Hastings, Kveseladze.
Most recent meeting: Saturday, May 8, 2021: Saints 7 Gloucester 31 (Gallagher Premiership)
Tom's season preview: Every summer, supporters and pundits try to predict what will happen in the Premiership season ahead.
And pretty much every time those predictions fail to come to fruition.
At Saints this year, it feels so difficult to forecast the team’s fortunes over the weeks and months ahead.
That is because Chris Boyd’s side have made a habit of being unpredictable over recent times.
They were consistently inconsistent last season, claiming hugely impressive wins against the likes of Exeter and Leicester but falling flat in games against the likes of Gloucester and Newcastle.
It was so often a case of one step forward and two steps back, especially when the heat came on at the end of the campaign.
Saints were well and truly in the race for a play-off place, competing with Sale Sharks and Harlequins.
Boyd’s side eventually finished 14 points behind fourth-placed Quins, who went on to win the title in incredible fashion.
The side from the Twickenham Stoop regularly showed that whatever you think is going to happen, doesn’t.
And Harlequins have provided hope for everyone in the league.
They showed that when a team truly comes together, anything is possible.
But what they also showed was how vital it is to avoid key injuries at key times.
The likes of Danny Care and Marcus Smith were so often available, and if Saints can enjoy similar good fortune with their big stars, they can also mount a title charge.
Another boost for Saints, as will be the case for many clubs, is the return of home supporters.
The black, green and gold should benefit sizeably from their fans being back as the Gardens was more of a free-house than a fortress during the difficult times last year.
Sides would regularly come and win in Northampton.
Saints lost every home league game in 2020 before finally ending that horrendous streak by beating Worcester on Boxing Day.
They have been slightly better at home during 2021, winning three of their eight home encounters in all competitions.
But that record must improve massively if they are to contend for major honours, and the fans will have a huge part to play in that process.
Put simply, there needs to be a big uplift in every area.
There is work to be done on every facet of the game for a team who have shown glimpses of what they are capable when they put it all together at the same time.
The two performances against Exeter Chiefs last season were benchmarks for Boyd’s side.
They won at Sandy Park thanks to a huge defensive display and then pushed the then champions all the way at the Gardens despite the early dismissal of David Ribbans.
That first-half showing, in which they nilled the Chiefs while scoring 18 points, will live long in the memory.
Exeter did eventually come roaring back to bag the win but Saints showed a grit, determination and ruthless streak that they will have to carry forward into the new campaign.
They can no longer afford to be the team with good prospects that turns in occasional good performances.
They must become the team they were in 2013/14 when they won their one and only Premiership title.
Back then, they were able to beat teams up in the forwards and cut them apart in the backs.
And they did it on a weekly basis.
It is a huge task to get back to that sort of daily dominance, but it is the only way forward for a team that must finally realise its potential.
Tom's prediction: It should be a lively start to the season at the Gardens, with two teams who like to play a decent brand of rugby going toe to toe. Saints will be desperate to do better than they did against Gloucester back in May, and I'm backing them to get the new Gallagher Premiership season off to a winning start here. Saints 31 Gloucester 23.