Tom Vickers’ Newport Gwent Dragons v Northampton Saints preview

Heading into the LV= Cup on the back of the Heineken Cup could be seen as a bit like eating a Burger King just after tickling your taste buds at a Michelin star restaurant.

By Tom Vickers
Friday, 24th January 2014, 11:30 am
READY TO TAKE HIS CHANCE - Ben Nutley scores in November's LV= Cup win over London Irish (Picture: Linda Dawson)
READY TO TAKE HIS CHANCE - Ben Nutley scores in November's LV= Cup win over London Irish (Picture: Linda Dawson)

It’s used to fill the gap, a bit of a guilty pleasure at a time when the main menu comprises of large servings of international rugby.

But there is a different feeling about the whole competition at Saints this year.

There’s an appetite. A hunger to see what’s on offer.

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Why? Because Northampton now have a shadow squad that oozes promise.

The fringe players and those youngsters attempting to make the cut are bulging with talent, with many feeling unlucky not to have already cemented a first-team place.

That they haven’t is testament to the strength of the first-team squad, which is supported by a Wanderers team who reached this year’s ‘A’ League final and a strong Academy production line.

The promise was there for all to see back in November, when Saints opened their LV= Cup account with two superb victories.

Gloucester were outgunned in a 33-6 Northampton win at the Gardens, before London Irish were thrashed 39-18 at the Madejski Stadium.

The desire of the men making the step up to the Saints first team was there for all to see and plenty of players took out their frustration on the opposition.

Ben Nutley and GJ van Velze, forwards used to dining at the Northampton top table, were among those to excel, with youngsters such as Howard Packman and Alex Day also catching the eye.

Some of those players will get another chance to make their mark this weekend in a game against a Newport side who Saints beat 30-20 at Rodney Parade last season.

Back then, three months into the 2012/13 campaign, the team was in a state of flux after a tough run of games in the Premiership.

And the performance at Rodney Parade was by no means a steady one, with the display of enigmatic fly-half Ryan Lamb a symbol of a topsy-turvy encounter.

The Dragons registered three tries through wing Tonderai Chavhanga, who found it all too easy to cut through Saints.

But Jim Mallinder’s side, which contained key men such as Lee Dickson, Samu Manoa and Jamie Elliott, eventually took control to claim the win.

Mallinder doesn’t have the luxury of naming as many established players in his squad for this weekend’s return visit, with 15 first-teamers unavailable through injury or international call-ups.

But he shouldn’t need them, as he still has plenty of potent ingredients at his disposal as he looks to conjure up a winning formula for the seventh game in succession.