Northampton Saints v London Irish: Tom Vickers' big match preview
Fixture: Northampton Saints v London Irish
Competition: Gallagher Premiership (round three)
Venue: cinch Stadium at Franklin's Gardens, Northampton
Date and kick-off time: Saturday, October 2, 2021, 2pm
Weather forecast: 13c, rain
Live television coverage: None
Referee: Tom Foley (100th Premiership game)
Saints: Furbank; Sleightholme, Proctor, Dingwall, Collins; Biggar, Mitchell; Auterac, Matavesi, Hill; Ribbans, Ratuniyarawa; Wood, Ludlam (c), Augustus.
Replacements: Fish, Waller, Painter, Coles, Lawes, Harrison, Lomani, Freeman.
London Irish: Parton; Loader, Rona, van Rensburg, Hassell-Collins; Jackson, Phipps; Goodrick-Clarke, Creevy, Hoskins; Simmons, Coleman; Rogerson (c), Donnell, Tuisue.
Replacements: Cornish, Dell, van der Merwe, Nott, Mafi, O’Brien, White, Williams.
Not considered for Saints selection: Matthew Arden, Callum Burns, Piers Francis, Oisin Heffernan, Dani Long-Martinez, Taqele Naiyaravoro, Ollie Newman, JJ Tonks.
Most recent meeting: Friday, April 16, 2021: Saints 44 London Irish 26 (Gallagher Premiership)
Tom's preview: The last time Saints headed home after a superb win at Sandy Park, they were struck by a sucker punch.
Bath travelled to the Gardens on February 28 this year and, eight days on from a gritty 13-12 success at Exeter Chiefs, Saints were undone.
The black, green and gold had been largely in control against Bath, but they eventually succumbed as they saw all of their hard work from the previous weekend wiped out.
It is a lesson that should stand Chris Boyd’s side in good stead this Saturday.
Because after grabbing a dramatic late 26-24 win at Exeter last weekend, thanks to George Furbank’s nerveless penalty, Saints return home to host London Irish.
And the last thing they want is another slip up that would waste all the effort they put in at Exeter.
They know that this is a huge chance to build some momentum, especially when you consider they play three of their next four Gallagher Premiership games at home.
And this period of the season will show whether they have truly learned from the previous campaign and whether they can achieve some of that consistency they have yearned for.
“Our biggest problem is not whether we can play or not - we’ve always known that on our day we can play - the question we keep asking ourselves is ‘can we play consistently?’,” Saints boss Chris Boyd said.
“Time will tell.
“We’ve had a couple of wins but one swallow doesn’t make a summer, by any means.
“We’ve got a tough game this week.
“All the games are tough and we just need to consistently put our game on the field.
“Two games is not consistent performance but each week we’re ticking a few more boxes and heading in the right direction.”
Saints must now combat a London Irish side who showed a huge amount of character themselves last weekend.
Irish came back from 17 points down to draw a thrilling game against Sale Sharks 31-31 at the Brentford Community Stadium.
And they will certainly not go down without a fight at the Gardens this weekend.
But if Saints really do want to be title contenders this season, these games simply have to yield victories.
It's no good just producing the odd flash in the pan and ending the campaign with a split record of wins and losses as Saints did in the Premiership last season.
They need to be dominant on the scoreboard and in the table's wins column.
Whether they can be, only time will tell.
But this weekend will tell us a lot.
Tom's prediction: This should be a really lively and open game, but with rain forecast, there might be more spills than thrills at times. Saints 24 London Irish 21.