Tom Vickers' Scarlets v Northampton Saints preview

Fixture: Scarlets v Northampton Saints (Champions Cup)

Friday, 22nd January 2016, 1:00 pm
Alex Waller scored a crucial try when Saints beat Scarlets back in November (picture: Sharon Lucey)

Date/kick-off time: Saturday, January 23, 5.30pm

Weather forecast: Cloudy, 11C

Referee: Pascal Gauzere (France)

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Scarlets: Collins; Williams, King, S Shingler, van der Merwe; Thomas, G Davies; John, Owens (c), Lee; Price, Paulino; A Shingler, Boyde, Allen.

Replacements: Myhill, Evans, Jones, Rawlins, Phillips, A Davies.

Saints: Foden; Elliott, G Pisi, Mallinder, North; Myler, Kessell; A Waller, Hartley (c), Hill; Lawes, Day; Gibson, Wood, Dickinson. Replacements: Haywood, E Waller, Denman, Paterson, Fisher, Dickson, Hanrahan, Burrell.

Outs: Saints: Clark (shoulder), Brookes (knee), Fotuali’i (hamstring), Collins (concussion).

Most recent meeting: Saturday, November 14: Saints 15 Scarlets 11 (Champions Cup)

Tom’s preview: While tries from the backs have been flowing as freely as a frozen river at Franklin’s Gardens, Saints have shown their attacking instincts on the road of late.

And they will need to be razor-sharp if they are to get what they are looking for at Parc y Scarlets on Saturday evening.

Because as Jim Mallinder conceded after last Sunday’s gritty win against Glasgow Warriors, Northampton could need five points from this weekend’s game against Scarlets.

That would certainly put them in a great position to reach the Champions Cup quarter-finals as one of three best runners-up.

And at least then, if they are unlucky and things don’t go their way, they can say they did everything they could in their final Pool 3 match.

But to do that, they will need to show an attacking spark that was sorely lacking last Sunday.

Although three tries were scored, only one came from some electric backs play, with Stephen Myler and George North combining to set up Harry Mallinder for a final-minute match-winning score.

It was a rare moment of magic on a dull night at the Gardens, where Saints have scored just six times in six outings this season.

But they have got results, thanks to a defence that is more than just defiant.

It has been impenetrable in the past four games at the Gardens, and only Scarlets, with Gareth Davies’ tidy try, have scored there this season.

Away from home, the tries have been flowing at both ends of late, with Leicester and Saints both scoring three in their recent humdinger at Welford Road.

And Saints also scored three times in the Boxing Day defeat at London Irish.

But they will need to go one better if they are to give themselves the best possible chance this weekend.

And with Newcastle Falcons the only team to have shipped more than three against Saints this season, something extra will be needed.

There will need to be a big backs improvement, with the smaller men showing they, like the forwards, can cope under big pressure.

Saints were in this situation in January, 2013, when they headed to Glasgow.

They eventually went down fighting, losing to a late Peter Horne try as they pushed for the fourth score that would have given them maximum points.

They will hope history doesn’t repeat itself against injury-ravaged Scarlets this weekend.

And to make sure of that, they will need every quality they have to get over the line (at least four times!) in Wales.

Tom’s prediction: Scarlets 15 Saints 22