Tom Vickers’ Racing Metro v Northampton Saints preview

FAMILIAR FACE - former Saints prop Brian Mujati starts for Racing Metro on Saturday
FAMILIAR FACE - former Saints prop Brian Mujati starts for Racing Metro on Saturday

Fixture: Racing Metro v Northampton Saints (European Rugby Champions Cup, game one)

Date/kick-off time: Saturday, October 18 (6.15pm kick-off)

Venue: Stade Olympique Yves-du-Manoir

Weather forecast: 24C, clear

Racing Metro: Dulin; Imhoff, Dumoulin, Roberts, Andreu; Sexton, Machenaud; Brugnaut, Lacombe, Ducalcon; Kruger, Van der Merwe; Lauret, La Roux, Claassen.

Replacements: Maurouard, Ben Arous, Mujati, Charteris, Gerondeau, Phillips, Gooseneck, Audrin.

Saints: Ben Foden; Ken Pisi, George Pisi, Luther Burrell, George North; Stephen Myler, Kahn Fotuali’i; Alex Waller, Dylan Hartley, Salesi Ma’afu, Courtney Lawes, Christian Day, Calum Clark, Tom Wood, Samu Manoa

Replacements: Mike Haywood, Ethan Waller, Gareth Denman, James Craig, Phil Dowson, Lee Dickson, James Wilson, Jamie Elliott

Outs: Racing Metro: Sexton (broken jaw)

Saints: Dickinson (neck), Corbisiero (shoulder)

Tom’s preview: Saints may be taking their first steps in a different European tournament this weekend, but the foes will be very familiar.

Opening night pits Jim Mallinder’s men against a Racing Metro side who possess plenty of faces with a history against the green, black and gold.

In the ‘those Saints supporters like’ category are the names of Brian Mujati and Juandre Kruger.

The forward pair became popular figures during stints at Franklin’s Gardens and are still remembered fondly.

Now to the others...

Players Jonny Sexton and Brice Dulin, coaches Laurent Labit, Laurent Travers and Ronan O’Gara - the list goes on.

All of those men will not be greeted with such warmth this weekend.

Sexton, as you may remember, turned the 2011 Heineken Cup final on its head with a sensational solo display that brought Leinster back from the dead to kill Saints’ hopes.

O’Gara landed that memorable match-winning drop goal deep into added time for Munster later that year as Mallinder’s men slumped on the Thomond Park turf in desolation.

And Dulin, Labit and their fellow converts from Castres to Racing have also heaped misery on Saints in the past.

Just last season, the green, black and gold travelled to France first up and were left ruing a 19-13 defeat at the hands of then Top 14 champions Castres.

Saints had the territory and possession to win the game, but narrowly missed out, putting them under immense pressure in the home clash with Ospreys the following weekend.

And should they suffer disappointment across the Channel on Saturday, Saints will again return to be greeted by the Welsh team at the Gardens a week later.

See, the tournament may have a slightly different name - Heineken are sponsors but have not crept into the title yet - but the enemies and challenges remain the same.

But Saints, buoyed by five wins from their first six Premiership games, will hope things are different this year.

They will hope that this time they can make it past the pool stages for the first time since reaching the showpiece three years ago.

They will hope that this time their undoubted ability is allowed to grace the quarter-finals and give some of Europe’s biggest spenders a run for their money.

This time, it should be different.

They have endured some imposing pools in recent seasons, with champions everywhere they looked.

Last year, there were the thrills and spills of Leinster before Christmas, with a home humbling followed by irrepressible delight in Dublin.

That did Saints no favours as they needed to win both games to make it through.

This time, they need it to be different.

But this time, they have a little more to be confident about, with Treviso, who currently prop up the PRO12, providing a winnable December double-header.

However, that would be meaningless should they lose their opening two matches, against sides who undoubtedly pack a punch.

But so do Saints.

And it is now time for them to put all those past demons to bed by slaying friends and foes this weekend.

Tom’s prediction: Racing Metro 18 Saints 21