Tom Vickers' Gloucester v Northampton Saints preview
Fixture: Gloucester v Northampton Saints (Aviva Premiership - round 22)
Date/kick-off time: Saturday, May 7 (3.30pm)
Weather forecast: 21C, scattered thunderstorms
Referee: JP Doyle
Outs: Saints: Clark (shoulder), Foden (groin), Stephenson (foot), Fisher (arm)
Teams: Gloucester: Marshall; Thorley, Twelvetrees, Atkinson, Creed; Laidlaw (c), Heinz; Thomas, Hibbard, Afoa; Savage, Thrush; Moriarty, Kvesic, Morgan. Replacements: Dawidiuk, Wood, Doran-Jones, Evans, Ludlow, Braley, Evans, Rowan.
Saints: Mallinder; K Pisi, G Pisi, Burrell, North; Myler, Dickson (c); A Waller, Haywood, Brookes; Lawes, Day; Gibson, Wood, Harrison. Replacements: Hartley, Ma’afu, Hill, Matfield, Nutley, Fotuali’i, Olver, Wilson
Most recent meeting: Friday, November 27: Saints 15 Gloucester 3 (Aviva Premiership - round five)
Tom’s preview: Saints will hold their end-of-season awards dinner on Monday night and, for the first time in a long time, it will actually mark the conclusion of the campaign.
Usually, the players keep it low key as, for every season since 2009, they have had a Premiership play-off semi-final to prepare for.
But, this time, they have missed out on the top four and they will know that the mood at Monday’s gathering will now hinge on what happens at Kingsholm on Saturday.
If Saints can finish the campaign with a win at Gloucester, it will be a case of move on, enjoy the back-to-back wins and come back stronger for next season’s assault on the Premiership and the Champions Cup.
But if Saints lose, and results in the games between Harlequins and Exeter, and Newcastle and Sale go against them, there will be a palpable feeling of dissatisfaction at Franklin’s Gardens.
Fans, management and players share high standards, and they are already immensely disappointed that the club hasn’t finished among the top four.
They could take pride from the Champions Cup quarter-final display at Saracens and the way squad members stepped up in that game and the one against Leicester Tigers on the following weekend.
But they now know this season, and next, will be hugely affected by events this weekend.
While failing to make the top four in this most brutal of seasons can, perhaps, be forgiven to an extent, missing out on the top six would be so hard to swallow.
When everyone is fit and firing - and that hasn’t been the case for much of this campaign - Saints have a squad good enough to compete with the best.
So they know that playing Champions Cup rugby is the minimum requirement.
The players are used to playing in big games and a full campaign in the Challenge Cup would be a real damp squib for men with such talent.
So they need to get the job done this weekend.
They need to finish with a flourish, put this season to bed and look forward to top level European rugby and a renewed English title bid in 2016/17.
Gloucester stand in their way at a venue that has not always been kind to Saints in recent years.
They drew 33-33 there last season and suffered late heartbreak in a 26-24 defeat during the previous campaign.
But if it is kind this time round, Monday’s end-of-season bash will be a much more enjoyable affair.
Tom’s prediction: Gloucester 25 Saints 28