Tom Vickers' Northampton Saints v Montpellier preview
Fixture: Northampton Saints v Montpellier (Champions Cup Pool 4 - game one)
Date and kick-off time: Saturday, October 15, 2016, 5.30pm
Venue: Franklin’s Gardens, Northampton
Saints: Foden; K Pisi, G Pisi, Mallinder, North; Myler, Groom; A Waller, Haywood, Brookes; Lawes, Paterson; Wood (c), Clark, Picamoles.
Replacements: Clare, E Waller, Hill, Dickinson, Harrison, Dickson, Hutchinson, Wilson.
Montpellier: Fall (c); O’Connor, Dumoulin, Steyn, Nadolo; Botica, White; Nariashvili, Mamukashvili, Kubriashvili; Mikautadze, Willemse; Jacques du Plessis, Battut, Spies.
Replacements: Ruffenach, Watremez, Jannie du Plessis, Ouedraogo, Qera, Wright, Martin, Michel.
Injuries: Saints: Tom Stephenson (broken leg), Christian Day (ruptured bicep), James Craig (concussion), JJ Hanrahan (ankle), Dylan Hartley (back)
Referee: Nigel Owens (Wales)
Most recent meeting: Thursday, January 15, 2009: Montpellier 24 Saints 28 (Challenge Cup pool stages)
Tom’s preview: Out of the frying pan and into the fire.
That is what this week’s transition between competitions is for Saints.
Because while you can look at the Champions Cup as a fresh start and a chance to put the Premiership demons to bed for a while, the start of European action brings its own pressures.
For Saints, there is pressure to overcome a sluggish start to the English season.
Pressure to put on another winning show in front of their own fans, as they did when edging past Exeter a couple of weeks ago.
Pressure to get off to a flying start.
Pressure to ensure that they will not be going to Castres next weekend with their backs already pressed firmly against a French wall.
Yes, Saints might get a breather from domestic battles, which have dented them, but they are simply walking into another colosseum.
This is another unforgiving battleground where the best need to be at their best.
Saints know all about top level European action.
They have strutted their stuff in the top tier tournament every year since 2009.
In fact, the last time they weren’t in the European Cup, they faced Montpellier in the Challenge Cup, winning both pool matches in the 2008/09 season.
Now they meet the Frenchmen again.
But this time, the Top 14 team promise to be a far more formidable proposition.
They should certainly put up a better fight than the Montpellier team that were thrashed 51-7 at the Gardens in October, 2008.
And they will be smelling blood after seeing Saints show weaknesses in the disappointing 20-9 defeat at Harlequins last weekend.
That display raised more questions about Saints and their ability to battle with the best.
But performances against Saracens, Wasps and Exeter have shown that they are capable of going toe-to-toe with Europe’s finest.
However, as ever, it remains all about winning.
It doesn’t matter how they do it, Saints simply have to win this weekend.
They will need to win all of their games at the Gardens and ensure they pick up at least one win on the road.
How much better things would look should they overcome the French resistance that stands in their path during the next two weeks.
But Saints’ ability to do that will be based on how they handle that pressure to perform.
It’s time to get the Champions Cup flame burning bright at the Gardens.
Tom’s prediction: Saints 17 Montpellier 13