Tom Vickers’ London Irish v Northampton Saints preview

George North has yet to score this season (picture: Kirsty Edmonds)
George North has yet to score this season (picture: Kirsty Edmonds)

Fixture: London Irish v Northampton Saints (Aviva Premiership round seven)

Date/kick-off time: Saturday, December 26 (2.30pm)

Weather forecast: 13C, mostly cloudy

Referee: Ian Tempest

London Irish: Maitland; Lewington, Hearn, Williams, Tikoirotuma; Noakes, McKibbin; Court, Paice, Franks; Symons (c), Rouse; Narraway, Cowan, Treviranus.

Replacements: Stevens, Smallbone, Aulika, Sinclair, Trayfoot, Steele, Geraghty, Mulchrone.

Saints: Foden; K Pisi, G Pisi, Burrell, North; Myler, Fotuali’i; E Waller, Hartley (c), Hill; Paterson, Day; Lawes, Gibson, Harrison.

Replacements: Haywood, A Waller, Denman, Matfield, Dickinson, Dickson, Hanrahan, Collins.

Outs: Saints: Corbisiero (knee), Wood (shoulder), Clark (shoulder), Brookes (knee).

Most recent meeting: Friday, February 13: Saints 15 London Irish 9 (Aviva Premiership)

Tom’s preview: Some may find better ways to spend Boxing Day, but a trip to a sparsely-populated Madejski Stadium could prove the perfect festive event for Saints.

Because at a time when the team are struggling to score tries, a game on a slick, sizeable surface against a side languishing at the bottom of the league could be a real tonic.

London Irish never make it easy for Saints, but the fact they have lost all six of their Aviva Premiership games so far this season suggests they are there for the taking this time.

The weather shouldn’t be an issue, so Saints should be able to get their backs into the game.

But they will need to be far more ruthless than they have been in recent weeks.

Jim Mallinder’s men have scored just one try in their past four games, and that was George Ford’s gift to Luther Burrell, who intercepted his England team-mate’s pass to score at Bath.

In fact, Saints are the lowest scorers in the Premiership, having dotted down just seven times in domestic action this season.

At the other end of the pitch they have been stubborn - their Racing rout aside - losing just once in six games in all competitions.

But their successes have been built on forward power and stability - and now it is time for the backs to steal the show.

They should get chances at Irish, who have conceded more tries than any other team in England’s top flight, shipping 24 so far.

And Saints will have to be clinical to avoid the ignominy of a Boxing Day blow against the Premiership’s bottom side.

Not only would a try-fest secure vital points in the pursuit of a top-four place - a task that appears tougher than ever this season - but it would boost belief heading into the new year.

And Saints desperately need that, with a confidence-packed Exeter Chiefs side coming to Franklin’s Gardens on the first day of 2016.

Tom’s prediction: London Irish 15 Saints 25