Tom Vickers’ Northampton Saints versus Ospreys preview

HUGE TEST - Jim Mallinder's Saints face their biggest game of the season so far when they line up against Ospreys on Saturday
HUGE TEST - Jim Mallinder's Saints face their biggest game of the season so far when they line up against Ospreys on Saturday

Fixture: Northampton Saints v Ospreys (Rugby Champions Cup, match two)

Date/kick-off time: Saturday, October 25 (5.15pm)

Venue: Franklin’s Gardens, Northampton

Weather forecast: 12C, clear

Saints: Foden; K Pisi, Wilson, Burrell, North; Myler, L Dickson; A Waller, Hartley, Ma’afu; Lawes, C Day; Clark, Wood, Manoa.

Replacements: Haywood, E Waller, Denman, Craig, Dowson, Fotuali’i, Hooley, Elliott.

Ospreys: Evans; Hassler, Bishop, Matavesi, Dirksen; Biggar, Webb; Smith, Baldwin, Arhip; Peers, Wyn-Jones (c); King, Tipuric, Bearman.

Replacements: Parry, Jones, Jarvis, Bernardo, Allen, Lewis, Roberts, Davies.

Outs: Saints: Corbisiero (both shoulder), Dickinson (neck), G Dickson (hip), G Pisi (hamstring)

Ospreys: Baker (neck)

Most recent meeting: Sunday, January 12: Ospreys 17 Saints 29

Tom’s preview: When the Rugby Champions Cup draw was made back in June, it finally seemed as though Saints had the kind of pool they wanted.

Having spent three seasons being floored by stellar sides such as Leinster, Castres, Ulster and Munster, Jim Mallinder’s men looked set for an easier fight.

Firstly, and most importantly, they were drawn alongside an Italian team in Treviso, who had seen many of their main men depart and who were never too highly rated anyway.

Secondly, they were served with a seemingly flaky Racing Metro side, who had won just one of their pool matches in last season’s Heineken Cup.

And thirdly, there was an Ospreys outfit who they had consumed reasonably comfortably on two occasions last season.

But, as they say - assumption makes an ass out of you and I.

And after last weekend’s opening-day defeat at a Racing side who were full of desire, Saints now face an Ospreys team who have won all seven of their games this season.

Now, this clash against the Welsh outfit, who look an impressive unit, is a must-win match.

And suddenly, things don’t quite look as straightforward as they did back in June.

But that is what makes Europe’s top tier tournament so intriguing; the constant challenges and the ruthless nature of it all.

Lose a couple of games, and you can pack your suitcases and book your flight home - or to the Amlin Challenge Cup, as Saints did last season.

Saturday’s showdown at Franklin’s Gardens is now the most important match of Northampton’s season.

They need this tournament - and it needs them.

An English club has not triumphed since 2007, when Wasps claimed the title by winning an all-Premiership showdown with Leicester Tigers.

And though Saracens came close last season, they were eventually beaten by a seemingly inexorable Toulon team.

This Saints group though, has the potential to go all the way.

On their day, with a full squad at their disposal, the English champions are a match for anyone.

Last weekend, it did not seem that way, but, as Luther Burrell pointed out in midweek, no side has gone the length of the competition unscathed.

Saints are hoping that loss can prove to be a salutary one, the driving force behind a successful title at the title.

The belief at the Gardens is such that the players and management will feel they can take the next step and get to Twickenham in a European showpiece.

But first, they will be expected to see off the Ospreys.

And as has already been shown, predictions are a dangerous thing in this competition.

Tom’s prediction: Saints 25 Ospreys 18