Semi-final team selection 'tricky' for Saints

Saints will square up to Newcastle Falcons at Franklin's Gardens on Saturday (picture: Sharon Lucey)
Saints will square up to Newcastle Falcons at Franklin's Gardens on Saturday (picture: Sharon Lucey)

Saints are facing some welcome selection dilemmas for Saturday's Premiership Rugby Cup semi-final against Newcastle Falcons at Franklin's Gardens (kick-off 12.15pm).

They may have players away on international duty and injured, but the black, green and gold have a plethora of options for the lunchtime clash.

Here we take a look at Saints' selection situation...

Who will be missing?

Courtney Lawes and Dan Biggar remain on Six Nations duty with England and Wales respectively, while there are four young stars - Samson Ma'asi, Alex Coles, Fraser Dingwall and Ollie Sleightholme - away with England Under-20s.

Saints will also be without a few injured players, with Dylan Hartley (knee), Piers Francis (shoulder), Andy Symons (knee), Harry Mallinder (knee) and Mike Haywood (knee) all sidelined.

What shape are Saints in going into the game?

There are plenty of refreshed players at Franklin's Gardens this week after the whole squad enjoyed a first weekend without a game since early August.

Saints went into their time away on a high, having defeated Leicester Tigers 47-20 in the final Premiership Rugby Cup group game on January 26.

What are the coaches saying?

Defence coach Alan Dickens was the man up for interview at the Gardens media day on Tuesday.

He said: "It's not just about having last week off because throughout the season we have been rotating our matchday team and replacements, in Europe and the PRC.

"Players have put their hand up in those competitions and gone on to play in the Premiership.

"It (team selection) is tricky but it's a positive because that competition within the squad breeds a competitive nature on the pitch and hopefully we'll see that again this week.

"The lads are (desperate to play) and it's positive.

"We had a good result against Leicester, got the four tries, people have had a good break and we came back in on Monday and trained hard.

"We've trained hard again today and the players are raring to go."

What are the main decisions that need to be made?

In truth, there are so many players vying for starts, it is difficult to pinpoint any particular position.

Saints could pick Alex Waller, Francois van Wyk or Will Davis at loosehead, James Fish or Reece Marshall at hooker, Ben Franks, Ehren Painter, Paul Hill or Jamal Ford-Robinson at tighthead... the list goes on.

One particularly interesting spot is full-back, with George Furbank's fine form really helping him to compete with Ahsee Tuala for regular starts.

With the likes of Nafi Tuitavake, Ken Pisi and James Haskell having recently returned from long-term injuries, there are so many options in so many positions.

Put simply, it is a great position for the coaches to be in as they put together a 23-man squad they hope can propel the club into its first first-team final since the Premiership title win in 2014.

What will Saints be up against?

Saints will face a Newcastle team that were in action as recently as last Sunday. The Falcons beat Sale Sharks 28-12 to secure their place in the semi-finals.

The Falcons picked a strong squad with the likes of Sinoti Sinoti, Toby Flood and Vereniki Goneva all involved at the AJ Bell Stadium.