Tom Vickers’ Leicester Tigers versus Northampton Saints preview

PAINFUL MEMORY - Leicester's Manu Tuilagi consoles Saints' James Downey at the end of the 2011 Premiership semi-final at Welford Road
PAINFUL MEMORY - Leicester's Manu Tuilagi consoles Saints' James Downey at the end of the 2011 Premiership semi-final at Welford Road

Fixture: Leicester Tigers v Northampton Saints (Aviva Premiership - round 22)

Date/kick-off time: Saturday, May 16, 3.30pm

Venue: Welford Road

Weather forecast: 13C, cloudy

Referee: Matthew Carley

Leicester: Niall Morris; Vereniki Goneva, Mathew Tait, Christian Loamanu, Adam Thompstone; Freddie Burns, Ben Youngs; Logovi’i Mulipola, Tom Youngs, Dan Cole, Brad Thorn, Graham Kitchener, Ed Slater, Julian Salvi, Jordan Crane. Replacements: Harry Thacker, Marcos Ayerza, Fraser Balmain, Sebastian De Chaves, Jamie Gibson, Sam Harrison, Tommy Bell, Jack Roberts

Saints: Ahsee Tuala; Jamie Elliott, Dom Waldouck, Tom Stephenson, Tom Collins; James Wilson, Lee Dickson; Alex Corbisiero, Mike Haywood, Salesi Ma’afu, Sam Dickinson, James Craig. Phil Dowson, Teimana Harrison, Jon Fisher. Replacements: Dylan Hartley, Alex Waller, Gareth Denman, Christian Day, Ben Nutley, Kahn Fotuali’i, Sam Olver, Howard Packman

Outs: Leicester: Manu Tuilagi (groin), Anthony Allen (knee), Seremai Bai (banned). Saints: Ben Foden (knee), George North (concussion).

Most recent meeting: Saturday, January 31: Leicester 17 Saints 8 (LV= Cup pool stages)

Tom’s preview: It is the scenario Saints sides of years gone by could only dream of.

The chance to eliminate Leicester from the title race on their own turf, knowing their own fate will not be decided for another week.

Yes, Saints have had the chance to inflict a knock-out blow at Welford Road before.

Jim Mallinder’s men were in that position in 2011 when they went to Leicester in the play-off semi-finals.

But the only blows that day were landed by Leicester... and, more specifically, Manu Tuilagi on Chris Ashton.

Saints’ 9-3 defeat in that win or bust fixture was to cost them a trip to Twickenham.

Now the boot is on the other foot.

Saints don’t need to win this weekend.

In fact, they could sit back, light a cigar and put on some comfy slippers while Leicester cruise to the win they need.

Because Mallinder’s history boys have already made sure they will top the regular-season table for the first time.

They know they will be in the play-offs next Saturday, facing the fourth-placed side at Franklin’s Gardens, and have made 12 changes to the team that hammered London Welsh last weekend.

Saints have given the likes of Stephen Myler, Samu Manoa, Courtney Lawes, Tom Wood, Calum Clark and the Pisi brothers the weekend off to rest up for the semi-final.

But Leicester don’t have that security.

One more slip-up and they are likely to be out of the play-off picture for the first time since the current format was introduced at the start of the 2005/06 season.

Exeter, who host Sale, and Saracens, who go to winless London Welsh, will surely get their respective jobs done.

And that means Leicester must beat Saints to make sure their impressive record doesn’t come to an end.

But, as Jamie Elliott, a product of the Northampton Academy, said earlier in the week - Saints will not make this easy.

Far from it, in fact.

Because their motivation comes from games gone by.

From the nine-match winless streak they endured at the hands of the Tigers before Tom Wood’s unforgettable late try broke the barren run in last season’s semi-final.

From the friendly taunts of the Tigers, who had lauded it for so long, making nine successive Premiership finals, beating Saints in the 2013 showpiece.

From the fact no Northampton side has won at Welford Road since 2007, when Mark Robinson’s magnificent individual try secured a 9-8 win.

Saints may not need to win this weekend, but how they would like to.

As Mallinder stressed in his pre-match press conference, there would be no better way to keep the ball rolling than by winning an east midlands derby.

Who knows - Saints could yet face Tigers in the play-offs.

But they will want to ensure that possibility ends on Saturday.

That they continue to assert their authority in the derby.

Authority gained from the incredible league win back in December, when Saints belied Dylan Hartley’s early dismissal to triumph with 14 men.

On that day, they gave it their all.

And you can be sure that they will be giving no less this weekend as they continue to make up for those years of Tigers-inflicted misery.

Tom’s prediction: Leicester 25 Saints 15