Tom Vickers' Northampton Saints v Stade Français preview

Fixture: Northampton Saints v Stade Français (Champions Cup play-off final)

Thursday, 25th May 2017, 1:30 pm
Updated Sunday, 4th June 2017, 9:51 pm
Nic Groom's score proved to be the winner as Saints beat Connacht last Saturday (picture: Kirsty Edmonds)

Date and kick-off time: Friday, May 26, 2017, 7.45pm

Venue: Franklin's Gardens, Northampton

Television coverage: Sky Sports 2, 7.30pm

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Saints: Tuala; Foden, Tuitavake, Burrell, North; Mallinder, Groom; A Waller, Hartley, Brookes; Lawes, Day; Wood (c), Harrison, Picamoles.

Replacements: Haywood, Ma'afu, Denman, Ratuniyarawa, Gibson, Dickson, Olver, Hutchinson.

Stade Français: Camara; Vuidarvuwalu, Doumayrou, Danty, Sinzelle; Plisson, Genia; Zhvania, Bonfils, Alo Emile, Alberts, Gabrillagues (c), Burban, Lakafia, Ross.

Replacements: Burden, Slimani, Melikidze, De Giovanni, Macalou, Daguin, Steyn, Bosman.

Outs: Saints: Paul Hill (neck), David Ribbans (ineligible), Calum Clark (calf), Stephen Myler (knee), JJ Hanrahan (shoulder), Jamie Elliott (shoulder)

Referee: John Lacey (Ireland)

Most recent meeting: No previous meetings

Tom's preview: A couple of weeks ago it was a case of my enemy's enemy is my friend for Saints.

Jim Mallinder's men were very much supporting Stade Français as the French giants took to the field against Gloucester in the Challenge Cup final.

They knew that if Stade could defeat the Cherry and Whites, a play-off berth would open up.

The Champions Cup flame would continue to flicker after a season that saw Saints finish in a disappointing seventh spot in the Aviva Premiership.

And good, old Stade got the job done, recovering from 10-0 down to eventually record a comfortable 25-17 success.

In truth, the margin of victory could have been greater as the French side bossed the Edinburgh encounter.

Their scrum made mincemeat of the opposition, with world-class prop Rabah Slimani having a field day.

Gloucester grabbed an early breakaway try through Jonny May and a late score from Ross Moriarty.

But in between, Stade were so impressive.

The Parisians then put Cardiff Blues to the sword last Friday, resting players but producing a huge second-half display to set up this showdown with Saints.

And now Mallinder's men must turn on the team that did them a huge favour earlier this month.

Whereas a couple of weeks ago, Saints' Champions Cup hopes rested on a Stade win, now they rest on a Stade defeat.

But Mallinder insists this kind of scenario is not as strange as it may seem.

"That's life really," said the Saints boss at this week's pre-match media session. "We're sort of used to that.

"Every week we see other sides play each other and there's always one side you really want to win, depending on where they are in the league table, and then you go and play them the following week.

"We've seen quite a lot of Stade recently and it's all set for a good game."

Indeed it is.

But it will only be a good game for Saints if they can record their third successive win at Franklin's Gardens on Friday night.

They have recently shown real fight to get past Harlequins and Connacht, but they will need more than just blood and sweat this weekend.

They will also need the style they have shown in big games against big teams in recent months.

And they must step up their game defensively if they are to stop Stade running riot.

The Parisians can strike from anywhere, with their strong set piece giving the razor-sharp backline plenty to chew on.

Saints will have to stop them at source, which means at least matching them up front, and they will need all of their international class to prevail this week.

Mallinder refuses to label it a season-defining game, but it could easily fall into that category.

If Saints win, they will have achieved the same as fifth-placed Bath and sixth-placed Harlequins.

If they lose, they will only have equalled the likes of 10th-placed Sale Sharks and 11th-placed Worcester Warriors.

League places don't matter too much, it is the end destination that really counts.

Champions Cup rugby has been a staple diet at Saints since 2009 and they can't afford to let it slip from their grasp now.

Make no mistake, this game now matters more than any of the others they have played this season.

But there will certainly be no favours from Stade Français on this occasion.

Tom's prediction: Saints 18 Stade Français 16