Tom Vickers' Northampton Saints v Bristol preview
Fixture: Northampton Saints v Bristol (Aviva Premiership - round 13)
Date and kick-off time: Saturday, January 7, 2017, 3pm
Venue: Franklin’s Gardens, Northampton
Saints: Foden; Elliott, Burrell, Hanrahan, North; Myler, Groom; A Waller, Haywood, Brookes; Lawes, Day; Wood (c), Harrison, Picamoles.
Replacements: Clare, E Waller, Hill, Craig, Gibson, Dickson, Mallinder, Estelles.
Bristol: Woodward; Wallace, Palamo, Hurrell, Varndell; Jarvis, Cliff; Traynor, Hawkins, Ford-Robinson; Tuohy, Glynn; Fenton-Wells, Robinson (c), Eadie.
Replacements: Crumpton, Bevington, Cortes, Sorenson, Lam, Williams, Searle, Arscott.
Outs: Saints: Tom Stephenson (broken leg), Calum Clark (knee), Sam Dickinson (knee), Ahsee Tuala (hamstring), Dylan Hartley (suspended - week four of six)
Referee: Andrew Jackson
Most recent meeting: Sunday, September 11, 2016: Bristol 10 Saints 32 (Aviva Premiership)
Tom’s preview: Two down, one to go.
That is the Saints mindset ahead of Saturday’s clash with fast-improving Bristol at Franklin’s Gardens.
Because since the Dublin debacle, when Jim Mallinder’s men were eviscerated by Leinster, Operation Bounce Back has been a success.
Two games, two wins and eight points pocketed.
Saints have shown their resolve, admittedly against two teams who are hardly pulling up any trees this season.
The character displayed against Gloucester at Kingsholm last weekend was notable.
And Saints will need much more of that if they are to somehow force their way back into the top four in the final 10 games of the Premiership’s regular season.
But the fact they are back in the top six is a start.
Something to build on.
And if they can halt Bristol’s four-match winning streak this weekend, the return to Europe and Anglo-Welsh Cup action will be much smoother.
In truth, the clashes with Castres and Montpellier don’t provide many reasons to be excited.
They will be dead rubbers in a Champions Cup campaign that met a brutal end in Dublin.
In contrast, Saints are top of their Anglo-Welsh Cup group and should at least progress in that competiion.
But it is the Premiership that matters most now.
And four, or possibly even five (if we’re being optimistic) points this weekend would be another big boost for Mallinder’s men.
Bristol are of course a different beast to the one which was defeated so easily at Ashton Gate back on that sun-soaked December day.
They now have confidence coursing through their veins, with last weekend’s win at Sale Sharks a real feather in their collective cap.
They now look like a side capable of staving off relegation, and they know a win at the Gardens would be a gargantuan achievement.
But Saints still harbour lofty ambitions of their own.
And if they are to stand any chance of realising them, they can’t afford a slip-up this Saturday.
Tom’s prediction: Saints 28 Bristol 16