Tom Vickers' Northampton Saints v Castres preview
Fixture: Northampton Saints v Castres (Champions Cup Pool 4 - match five)
Date and kick-off time: Saturday, January 14, 2017, 1pm
Venue: Franklin’s Gardens, Northampton
Saints: Foden; Estelles, Burrell, Mallinder, North; Myler, Groom; A Waller, Haywood, Brookes; Lawes, Day; Wood, Gibson, Harrison.
Replacements: Clare, E Waller, Hill, Craig, Nutley, Dickson, Hanrahan, Tuala.
Castres: Palis; Agulla; Taumopeau, Ebersohn, Smith; Dumora, Kockott (c); Lazar, Jenneker, Tussac; Jacquet, Moreaux; Caballero, Bias, Vaipulu.
Replacements: Mach, Tichit, Capo-Ortega, Mafi, Dupont, Urdapilleta, Combezou, Kotze.
Outs: Saints: Tom Stephenson (broken leg), Calum Clark (knee), Sam Dickinson (knee), Jamie Elliott (shoulder), Dylan Hartley (suspended - week five of six), George Pisi (shoulder)
Referee: Andrew Brace (Ireland)
Most recent meeting: Saturday, October 22, 2016: Castres 41 Saints 7 (Champions Cup)
Tom’s prediction: There is no feeling of envy towards those charged with selling tickets to Saturday’s clash with Castres.
Because for some supporters, the match is about appealing as travelling across the Channel in a rubber dinghy.
Barring some sort of miracle, Saints are out of the running in Champions Cup Pool 4.
Four games, three defeats and 152 points conceded has seen to that.
They gritted their teeth to grind out an opening-night win against Montpellier, but they were beaten by Leinster at Franklin’s Gardens and eviscerated by the Irish team in Dublin.
They were also cut to ribbons by Castres at Stade Pierre Antoine in October on what was a sobering day for the club.
But if there is a selling point for this weekend, it is that the events in France have whetted Saints appetites for this weekend.
The players have a point to prove.
They feel embarrassed by their big European defeats so far, with that crushing loss at Castres probably the worst of them.
Because although they were beaten by a bigger margin in Dublin, they left out the majority of their international stars for the game at the Aviva Stadium.
At Castres, they had them in the side, but were still slaughtered in brutal fashion.
This weekend, Saints will look to turn the tables.
They have named a strong team in the bid to do just that, and to ensure the momentum garnered by three successive Aviva Premiership wins is maintained.
And if Saints supporters want a positive nod from history it is that matches between these two teams - and there have been a lot in recent years! - tend to go in favour of the home team.
In fact, the last time Saints or Castres won away against the other was in the 2010/11 season, when Jim Mallinder’s men won 23-12 at Stade Pierre Antoine.
That was the season Saints reached the Heineken Cup final with a 100 per cent record before Leinster eventually outlasted them in the showpiece.
Those days seem a distant memory, especially this season, with the team floundering in Europe, but they need to turn the tide now.
They have to show they can compete with and beat Europe’s elite and the upcoming games against Castres and Montpellier give them a chance to go out with a bang.
And that is what the supporters who have shelled out for tickets this weekend will expect.
Tom’s prediction: Saints 18 Castres 10