Northampton Saints v Harlequins: Tom Vickers' big match preview

Fixture: Northampton Saints v Harlequins

By Tom Vickers
Friday, 27th November 2020, 12:08 pm
James Grayson makes his 50th Saints appearance on Saturday
James Grayson makes his 50th Saints appearance on Saturday

Competition: Gallagher Premiership (round two)

Venue: Franklin's Gardens, Northampton

Date and kick-off time: Saturday, November 28, 2020, 2pm

Weather: 9c, cloudy

Live television coverage: BT Sport Extra 4

Referee: Tom Foley

Saints: Mallinder; Tuala, Proctor, Francis, Collins; Grayson, Mitchell; Waller (cc), Marshall, Hill; Ratuniyarawa, Ribbans; Isiekwe, Ludlam (cc), Wood.

Replacements: Fish, Auterac, Franks, Coles, Adendorff, Taylor, Dingwall, Hutchinson.

Harlequins: Brown; Earle, Northmore, Esterhuizen, Murley; Smith, Care; Garcia Botta, Baldwin, Louw; Young, Lewies (c); Lawday, Evans, Dombrandt.

Replacements: Gray, Els, Kerrod, Tizard, J Chisholm, Steele, Lang, Marchant.

Outs: Saints: George Furbank (concussion), Teimana Harrison (calf), Mike Haywood (knee), Danny Hobbs-Awoyemi (Achilles), Courtney Lawes (ankle), Ollie Sleightholme (ankle), Kayde Sylvester (achilles), JJ Tonks (shoulder).

Most recent meeting: Sunday, August 30, 2020: Harlequins 30 Saints 17 (Gallagher Premiership)

Tom's preview: With light finally appearing at the end of the tunnel off the field, perhaps now Saints can provide some on it.

Fans will soon be back at Franklin’s Gardens following this week’s Government announcement. Up to 2,000 can attend the Champions Cup opener against Bordeaux-Bègles on December 11.

But before then, Saints must make sure their supporters will be returning to a happy place, because it has been anything but in 2020.

Seven league games, seven Gardens defeats.

The only home comfort came against Italian side Benetton in a European encounter way back in January.

It has been sobering stuff in a year full of it.

But on Saturday, Saints have a huge chance to start a new chapter.

Harlequins have their threats, as any side in the Premiership does, but Saints should have enough against Paul Gustard's side, who were beaten 33-3 by Exeter last Friday.

Quins were in touch for a long time during that clash before the champions pulled away.

And this will be no easy task for a Saints team who were battered at the breakdown when they played the same opposition at The Stoop back in August.

But Saints are at home, on their own territory, and they have plenty of experienced and talented players at their disposal.

Now is the time to assert some authority to give them a timely boost before a really tricky run of games, against Bristol, Bordeaux and old foes Leinster.

Those matches are going to be so tough for Chris Boyd's side, and they really need a shot in the arm to take them into those encounters.

Saints are a side who have to play with a swagger.

They are at their best with the monkey off their backs.

And they have a chance to finally rid themselves of it this weekend.

To do that, they will have to start defending far better than they have in recent times.

Since rugby restarted in August, they have been far too easy to score against.

Teams soak up the pressure for long periods and then strike, often on enough occasions to bag a bonus point.

Saints have dominated for long spells in difficult away games against the likes of Exeter and Sale but come away with nothing.

That has been because their hosts have shown that resilience in defence and ruthless streak in attack.

Saints desperately need display both of those qualities this weekend.

And if they can do that, they can put an extra spring in the step of the 2,000 fans who come to back them in a couple of weeks' time.

Tom's prediction: Saints really have to start winning games, especially at home, and they have a good chance to end their horror run against a Harlequins side who haven't been victorious in Northampton in the league for almost eight years. I'm backing Saints to finally get over the line. Saints 25 Harlequins 18.