Tom Vickers’ Northampton Saints versus Harlequins preview

Fixture: Northampton Saints v Harlequins (Aviva Premiership - round 16)

By Tom Vickers
Thursday, 26th February 2015, 11:46 am
UNDER PRESSURE - Harlequins coach Conor O'Shea
UNDER PRESSURE - Harlequins coach Conor O'Shea

Date/kick-off time: Friday, February 27, 7.45pm

Venue: Franklin’s Gardens

Weather forecast: 3C, clear

Referee: Tim Wigglesworth

Saints: Wilson; K Pisi, G Pisi; Stephenson, Elliott; Myler, Dickson (c); A Waller, Haywood, Denman; Lawes, Day; Manoa, Clark, Dickinson.

Replacements: Williams, Corbisiero, Mercey, Wood, Dowson, Fotuali’i, Olver, Tuala.

Harlequins: Monye; Yarde, Hopper, Sloan, Walker; Evans, Dickson; Lambert, Ward, Sinckler; Matthews, Robson (c); Clifford, Wallace, Talei.

Replacements: Buchanan, Marfo, Shields, Twomey, Trayfoot, Tebaldi, Botica, Lindsay-Hague.

Outs: Saints: Foden (knee), Hartley, Burrell, North (all international duty) Ma’afu (suspended - week two of two), Craig (concussion). Harlequins: Marler, Easter, Robshaw (all international duty), Brown, Casson (both concussion), Care (calf).

Most recent meeting: Saturday, December 27: Harlequins 25 Saints 30 (Aviva Premiership)

Tom’s preview: If potential winners of matches were judged on some sort of desperationometer, you’d fancy Harlequins to see off Saints on Friday night.

Conor O’Shea’s side will be drinking in the last-chance saloon when they head to Franklin’s Gardens, knowing if they fail to claim a win their top-four chances will have dried up.

And it would be strange to see Quins, who are 10 points adrift of fourth, limp out of the race for a play-off place with six games remaining.

They have made the end-of-season shootout in each of the past three seasons and were champions in 2012, when they beat Saints in the semi-final at The Stoop.

But something hasn’t quite clicked for them this time round and they now face an uphill battle to salvage their season.

Saints, on the other hand, are sitting pretty.

After last Saturday’s slick win at Bath, they are a comfortable nine points clear of the men from The Rec.

They could afford the odd defeat here and there and still secure a top-two spot, with third-placed Saracens now 12 points adrift of the leaders.

So Saints’ desperation rating is low.

They definitely don’t need a win as much as Harlequins do.

But, judging by the attitude of those who attended this week’s media day, they definitely want it as much.

There have been warnings about what a defeat could do and how damaging it would be to the team’s momentum.

They won’t want to stumble over the line, they want to fly over it.

They were given problems by Quins at Twickenham in December, edging to a 30-25 win.

That victory was built on a stubborn performance with little possession and territory afforded by the home side.

But Saints will want to be the ones in command this week.

And if they can play with the kind of swagger they possessed in the west country last weekend, Harlequins’ thirst for points will count for little.

Tom’s prediction: Saints 30 Harlequins 14