Tom Vickers’ Saracens v Northampton Saints preview

RENEWING RIVALRIES - action from Saints' dramatic Aviva Premiership Final win over Saracens in May (Picture: Kirsty Edmonds)
RENEWING RIVALRIES - action from Saints' dramatic Aviva Premiership Final win over Saracens in May (Picture: Kirsty Edmonds)
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Fixture: Saracens v Northampton Saints (Aviva Premiership round eight)

Date/kick-off time: Sunday, November 23, 1pm

Venue: Allianz Park

Weather forecast: 11C, chance of rain

Saracens: Goode; Ashton, Tompkins, Wyles, Strettle; Hodgson, Spencer; Gill, George, Figallo; Hamilton, Hargreaves; Wray, Fraser, B Vunipola.

Replacements: Sharman, Barrington, Johnston, Itoje, Burger, Joubert, de Kock, Ransom

Saints: Foden; Elliott, Stephenson, Burrell, Wilson; Myler, Dickson; A Waller, Haywood, Ma’afu; Craig, Day; Clark, Dowson, Manoa.

Replacements: McMillan, E Waller, Denman, Harrison, Nutley, Hodgson, Waldouck, Packman

Outs: Saracens: M Vunipola (knee), Brits (knee), Kruis, Wigglesworth, Farrell, Barritt (international duty).

Saints: Corbisiero (shoulder), G Pisi (hamstring), Dickinson (neck), Fisher (toe), Fotuali’i, K Pisi, Hartley, Lawes, Wood, North (international duty).

Most recent meeting: Saturday, May 31: Saracens 20 Saints 24

Tom’s preview: They may not be at full strength, but one look at last weekend’s line-ups shows you why Saracens and Saints contested the most recent Aviva Premiership final.

Saints were shorn of eight international stars and still managed to field a side containing Samu Manoa, Stephen Myler, Luther Burrell et al.

The result against Exeter may not have gone their way, as the Chiefs’ cohesion - and kicking game - won the day, but Saints couldn’t blame a low-key cast list for the lack of a happy ending.

And Saracens, too, could have no excuses after surrendering a lead to draw at Leicester, as Mark McCall’s squad was saturated with talent.

The sort of depth on show at both clubs is evidence as to why Sarries and Saints were there in May and should be there or thereabouts next spring.

They can both almost field two teams good enough to not only compete, but do well in the division.

And there can be no doubt Sunday’s reunion in Barnet should be a fascinating battle.

Saracens will fancy exacting a bit of revenge for the late heartbreak Saints inflicted on them at Twickenham, where Alex Waller’s outstretched hand grabbed a memorable win.

But of more concern to the men in black and red will be seizing their chance to return to the Aviva Premiership summit.

Last season, top spot was almost exclusively theirs as they set the tone and proceeded to motor ahead, leaving others trailing in their wake.

Even Saints were unable to keep up, being made to settle for second.

There is no doubt Jim Mallinder’s men would like to finish first this time round though, to hammer home their champion status.

And if they are to do that, a win at Allianz Park would do very nicely indeed.

There has been huge motivation at Franklin’s Gardens this week, with players desperate to prove a point.

Released England players want to prove Stuart Lancaster wrong.

And everyone wants to prove last Friday’s defeat to Exeter was just a blip.

A success at Saracens would be an emphatic statement of intent ahead of a trip to London Welsh next weekend.

And it would set Saints up nicely for a run of games - past the Welsh fixture - that is fraught with danger.

Leicester and Harlequins lie in wait in December, which also includes back-to-back Champions Cup clashes with Treviso.

Saints will have their international players back for those matches, but this bunch will feel they are good enough to lay the foundations at Saracens this weekend.

Tom’s prediction: Saracens 23 Saints 16