Tom Vickers’ Northampton Saints v Wasps preview

Dylan Hartley is back to lead Saints (picture: Kirsty Edmonds)
Dylan Hartley is back to lead Saints (picture: Kirsty Edmonds)

Fixture: Northampton Saints v Wasps (Aviva Premiership round 18)

Date/kick-off time: Friday, March 27, 7.45pm

Venue: Franklin’s Gardens

Weather forecast: 7C, partly cloudy

Referee: Craig Maxwell-Keys

Saints: Wilson; K Pisi, G Pisi, Stephenson, North; Myler, Dickson; Corbisiero, Hartley (c), Ma’afu; Lawes, Day; Wood, Clark, Manoa.

Replacements: Haywood, A Waller, Denman, Fisher, Dickinson, Fotuali’i, Waldouck, Tuala.

Wasps: Miller; Wade, Daly, Downey, Tagicakibau; Lozowski, Simpson; Mullan (c), Shervington, Cittadini; Gaskell, Myall; Johnson, Young, N Hughes.

Replacements: McIntyre, Swainston, Gaskell, Jackson, Thompson, G Hughes, Helu.

Outs: Saints: Ben Foden (knee), Luther Burrell (unknown). Wasps: James Haskell (rested), Tom Varndell (biceps), Andy Goode (ankle)

Most recent meeting: Saturday, February 7: Saints 29 Wasps 6 (LV= Cup group stages)

Tom’s preview: The troops have assembled and wars at home and abroad will be settled by the end of May.

Saints, who saw their Six Nations stars return to their ranks earlier this week, have five Aviva Premiership regular-season battles remaining.

And they must march on France on April 4 in a bid to further their hopes of European Champions Cup dominance.

That fixture against Clermont Auvergne will be as tough as they come.

Saints will have to be in peak condition to conquer the Stade Marcel Michelin.

And that is one of the reasons they have named the side they have for Friday’s clash with Wasps.

Last season, it took time for the team to gel again after the Six Nations.

They lost three successive games after the return of their big guns.

And they are desperate not to repeat that run again.

Because if they do, they will see their nine-point lead at the top of the Premiership eroded in games against Wasps and Exeter.

And they will also tumble out of Europe.

That would mean only the league is up for grabs and Saints would have to go all out to win their final three games to claim a home semi-final berth.

Jim Mallinder said earlier this week that he is keen to avoid a tricky final few weeks.

He wants to be able to rest and rotate as he sees fit for the play-offs at the end of the campaign.

He knows that end-of-season shout-out will be attritional enough, without having three onerous encounters in the build up to it.

Saints’ powerful artillery provided two big prizes last season, and they will hope that can be the case again this time round.

Tom’s prediction: Saints 28 Wasps 15