Tom Vickers' Leicester Tigers v Northampton Saints preview
Fixture: Leicester Tigers v Northampton Saints
Date and kick-off time: Saturday, December 3, 5pm
Venue: Welford Road, Leicester
Leicester Tigers: Worth; Thompstone, Betham, O Williams, Brady; Burns, Kitto; Mulipola, T Youngs (c), Bateman; Slater, Kitchener; Fitzgerald, O’Connor, Hamilton.
Replacements: Thacker, Genge, Cilliers, McCaffrey, Evans, Harrison, Tuilagi, Pietersen.
Saints: Foden (c); Elliott, Burrell, Hanrahan, North; Myler, Kessell; A Waller, Haywood, Hill; Paterson, Craig; Gibson, Nutley, Picamoles.
Replacements: Clare, E Waller, Denman, Ratuniyarawa, Ludlam, Groom, G Pisi, K Pisi.
Outs: Saints: Tom Stephenson (broken leg), Sam Dickinson (knee), Lee Dickson (rib), Christian Day (concussion), Calum Clark (suspended - week two of three), Kieran Brookes (suspended - week one of two), Dylan Hartley, Courtney Lawes, Teimana Harrison, Tom Wood (international duty)
Referee: JP Doyle
Most recent meeting: Saturday, April 16, 2016: Saints 24 Leicester Tigers 30 (Aviva Premiership)
Tom’s preview: It’s a record that sticks in the craw at Saints and one they would dearly love to bring tumbling down on Saturday evening.
For close to 10 long years, the men from Northampton have been unable to beat the team from Leicester in their own backyard.
By hook or by crook, those pesky Tigers always find a way to stop Saints winning at Welford Road.
In fact, not since February, 2007 have Northampton headed up the M1 and come back with the lion’s share of the points after taking down the Tigers.
On that occasion, a Saints side that would be relegated later that season secured a 10-9 win, with Mark Robinson’s try crucial to the success.
Many young Saints fans won’t remember that triumph.
Director of rugby Jim Mallinder has yet to taste glory at Welford Road as Saints boss.
And many members of his current squad have never known what it is like to win against Leicester at Welford Road while wearing the green, black and gold (or whatever away shirt the club’s players sport during that particular campaign).
Only Dylan Hartley and Stephen Myler have been victorious at Welford Road with Saints.
And when that was put to him after the defeat to Newcastle Falcons last Friday, Myler said: “This may be a good opportunity to do so, then.”
It was a short and simple reply, but even after the hugely disappointing defeat to Falcons, it showed that Saints still believe.
The message this week has been to have self-confidence. To feel that this will be the weekend the Tigers are tamed on their own turf.
That would seem unlikely given the lack of stellar showings this season.
But Saints desperately need to stay in touch with Tigers, who are seven points ahead of them in fourth.
A win this weekend, would open the gap and the wounds further.
But while the points are hugely important, not to mention the bragging rights, performance is also vital.
If Saints are beaten but push Tigers all the way, as they did last season when losing to a late Freddie Burns penalty, they can at least take something into the crucial Champions Cup double-header against Leinster.
But if they are beaten and beaten well, it would compound the frustration felt after the loss to Falcons and leave them searching for a big boost before the Leinster battles.
Saints need a spark. Something to kick-start their stuttering season.
They need a benchmark performance. A big showing that can show supporters what they are capable of.
And now is the time to produce it.
Tom’s prediction: Leicester Tigers 25 Saints 18