Tom Vickers’ Wasps v Northampton Saints preview

Harry Mallinder showed his disappointment as Wasps celebrated at the Gardens in January (picture: Kirsty Edmonds)
Harry Mallinder showed his disappointment as Wasps celebrated at the Gardens in January (picture: Kirsty Edmonds)

Fixture: Wasps v Northampton Saints (Aviva Premiership - round 19)

Date/kick-off time: Sunday, April 3, 3pm

Weather forecast: 14C, mostly cloudy

Referee: Luke Pearce

Outs: Saints: Clark (shoulder), Hartley (concussion), Gibson (ankle), Burre;; (head)

Teams: Wasps: Miller; Wade, Daly, S Piutau, Halai; Gopperth, Hampson; Mullan (c), Johnson, Cooper-Woolley; Launchbury, Davies; Young, Smith, Hughes. Replacements: Festuccia, McIntyre, Cittadini, Myall, Haskell, Stevenson, Jackson, Tagicakibau.

Saints: Foden; K Pisi, G Pisi, Mallinder, North; Myler, Fotuali’i; A Waller, Haywood, Brookes; Lawes, Day; Wood (c), Harrison, Dickinson. Replacements: Marshall, Ma’afu, Hill, Craig, Fisher, Dickson, Hanrahan, Collins.

Most recent meeting: Friday, January 29, 2016: Saints 11 Wasps 24 (Aviva Premiership - round 10)

Tom’s preview: It was the game that shaped the season for both Saints and Wasps.

On Friday, January 29, the two teams met on a gloomy night at Franklin’s Gardens.

Saints were heavy favourites as they squared up to a weakened Wasps side who hadn’t won in Northampton for more than a decade.

This was a Wasps side who have been developing in recent years, but had not proved that they could really stamp their mark on a league season for some time.

However, in the first 30 minutes at the Gardens, they trampled all over Saints, scoring three times in a blitz that stunned the home supporters.

Saints managed to stem the tide and grab a try of their own late on, but the actions of Jim Mallinder, who had headed to the touchline to cajole his players on the half-hour mark, weren’t enough to earn anything from the game.

Instead, Wasps waltzed away with four precious Aviva Premiership points and proceeded to go on a run of eight wins from nine league matches.

While Wasps could ride on a wave of confidence, Saints, who had been booed off by some supporters, were sinking.

They needed to do some soul-searching.

But it paid off, and in style, as they started to change their style, playing a more expansive brand of rugby at Harlequins eight days later.

Fortune favoured the brave as they stole a late 27-23 win thanks to a Ben Botica error and some brilliant work by Ben Foden, who scored the most dramatic of tries.

It kick-started Saints, who last week beat Quins again to make it six wins from their past eight games.

And now, here we are in April, with both Saints and Wasps hopeful of earning Premiership play-off spots.

It has been quite a journey for both teams during a brutal run of league matches.

Both teams can take huge credit from the way they reacted to that seminal night at the Gardens, with Wasps refusing to get carried away and Saints ensuring their season didn’t plummet into the depths of despair.

Both built and built and built, and now the campaign is nearing a crescendo.

Having kept their nerve and kept believing, both teams will need the steel and style they have shown in abundance in the next few weeks.

For Saints, the toughest of schedules awaits, with this weekend’s Coventry clash followed by a Champions Cup quarter-final at Saracens and a mouthwatering local derby against Leicester Tigers.

It is fasten your seatbelts time - a period when the big names show they are big-game players.

So much hard work has gone into making sure these matches matter and it would be a real shame if Saints didn’t reward the recovery they have enjoyed since that defeat to Wasps.

They have displayed their character to turn their season around and now they will need to everything they have to remain on course for silverware.

Tom’s prediction: Wasps 30 Saints 18