Tom Vickers' Gloucester v Northampton Saints preview
Fixture: Gloucester v Northampton Saints (Aviva Premiership - round 12)
Date and kick-off time: Sunday, January 1, 2017, 3pm
Venue: Kingsholm, Gloucester
Gloucester: Hook; Halaifonua, Symons, Twelvetrees, May; Burns, Heinz (c); Hohneck, Hibbard, Ma’afu; Savage, Thrush; Ludlow, Kvesic, Morgan.
Replacements: Matu’u, McAllister, Afoa, Galarza, Moriarty, Laidlaw, Scott, Purdy.
Saints: Foden; K Pisi, Burrell, Hanrahan, North; Myler, Groom; A Waller, Haywood, Brookes; Lawes, Day; Wood (c), Harrison, Picamoles.
Replacements: Clare, E Waller, Hill, Ratuniyarawa, Gibson, Kessell, Mallinder, Estelles.
Outs: Saints: Tom Stephenson (broken leg), Sam Dickinson (knee), Dylan Hartley (suspended - week three of six), Ahsee Tuala (hamstring), George Pisi (shoulder), Calum Clark (knee)
Referee: Matthew Carley
Tom’s preview: A new year and a fresh set of fixtures for Saints to get stuck into.
Having played everyone once, it’s time for round two.
And although Jim Mallinder’s men hardly have huge reason for cheer as they go into 2017, they can be upbeat about a few things.
Firstly, they go to Gloucester on the back of a comfortable victory against Sale Sharks.
Secondly, they have key players returning from injury, with George North and Harry Mallinder back in the squad for the trip to Kingsholm.
Thirdly, Saints have already beaten Gloucester on two occasions this season.
And finally, though they have only won five of their 11 league games so far, no side has really provoked a feeling of fear.
WHile they have been eviscerated in Europe, at home Saints have largely been involved in games of fine margins.
Even Wasps and Saracens, who are clearly the league’s best two teams so far this season, have hardly hammered Saints.
In fact, Wasps were pushed all the way at Franklin’s Gardens and were fortunate that Mallinder’s men failed to take the chances they created.
So Saints, with important players back and plenty of chances to rest with their European bid over and Anglo-Welsh Cup weeks on the agenda, can really focus on the league.
And they really have to get a result at Gloucester, as they did on the final day of last season.
Back then, North scored twice as Saints cemented their place in the Champions Cup with a top-six finish.
And how welcome more of the same would be, with Saints sitting eighth in the standings and facing a real fight to finish among the league’s best sides.
Missing out on Champions Cup qualification would not be acceptable for a club of Saints’ size.
The squad is good enough to finish above at least a couple of sides who currently sit above them.
And now it is time to build some momentum as 2017 goes on.
Saints have a great record when it comes to the first game of the year.
In fact, they have not lost a new year fixture since 2011, when Harlequins won 16-13 at the Gardens.
Mallinder’s men need that good run to continue this weekend.
And if it does, with Bristol to come at the Gardens six days later, there is a real chance for Saints to start the year as they mean to go on.
Tom’s prediction: Gloucester 20 Saints 25