Tom Vickers’ Worcester Warriors v Northampton Saints preview

Jamie Gibson has been a stand-out summer recruit at Saints (picture: Kirsty Edmonds)

Jamie Gibson has been a stand-out summer recruit at Saints (picture: Kirsty Edmonds)

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Fixture: Worcester Warriors v Northampton Saints (Aviva Premiership round one)

Date/kick-off time: Friday, October 16, 7.45pm

Venue: Sixways

Weather forecast: 11C, thick cloud

Referee: Greg Garner

Worcester: Pennell; Vuna, Olivier, Mills, Biggs; Heathcote, Arr; Rapava Ruskin, Annett, Schonert; O’Callaghan, Barry; Dowson, Lewis, van Velze (c).

Replacements: George, Leleimalefaga, Rees, O’Shea, Mama, Mulchrone, Grove, Humphreys.

Saints: Foden; K Pisi, Stephenson, Burrell, Elliott; Myler, Dickson; A Waller, Hartley, Brookes; Paterson, Day; Gibson, Fisher, Dickinson.

Replacements: Haywood, E Waller, Hill, Nutley, Harrison, Fotuali’i, Hanrahan, G Pisi.

Outs: Saints: Courtney Lawes (knee), James Wilson (arm), Calum Clark (shoulder), George North, Victor Matfield (both international duty)

Most recent meeting: Saturday, February 15, 2014: Saints 30 Worcester 14 (Aviva Premiership)

Tom’s preview: After a summer that has felt almost as long as the second half of the 2011 Heineken Cup final, Saints are finally back in Aviva Premiership action this week.

And what a welcome return it is, following an England World Cup campaign that has fallen flat on its face.

It has, of course, been a privilege to be at Twickenham for all three Red Rose games at the venue during the tournament.

The atmosphere eclipsed any other rugby occasion experienced.

But having also attended Saints’ friendly encounters, you can’t help enjoy the buzz of a club side shaping up for the start of a season.

While watching England felt distant and disconnecting, especially after the strange selection mish-mash, 
Saints’ return feels like welcoming an old friend back to the fray.

Because while club rugby doesn’t possess the same level of prestige or attract anywhere near the level of coverage nationally, those who live it, week in and week out, know just how enjoyable it is.

They know how fulfilling it feels when their team wins.

They know how agonising it is when their team loses.

They relish watching new players blend in with old ones.

They savour seeing some of their own from the Academy make the breakthrough on the big stage.

And, most of all, their support for their team gives them an inextricable bond and a feeling of consistency.

When the weekend arrives, you know that the Saints will be playing, home or away.

You may just look out for the result or you may go to every game.

But whatever level of support you provide, you always care because it is a familiar companion.

Watching England is different because there is so much time between tournaments and matches.

If you are English, you will always want the Red Rose to reign.

But does it mean as much as if the team you watch every week lifts a major trophy?

Perhaps not.

For some at Twickenham the match is merely a way to mix things up in between skiing trips.

But club rugby is the bread and butter, it’s where the true fan resides.

And those fans will be delighted to see their heroes return at Sixways on Friday night.

They will even have a few new ones to support, with Saints having added to their squad significantly this summer.

JJ Hanrahan and Jamie Gibson are among the new recruits to have made striking impressions during pre-season. And there are still men such as Kieran Brookes and Victor Matfield to put the flags and banners out for when they return from World Cup duty.

The challenge will be a tough one, with no LV= Cup games to break up the relentless brutality of Premiership and Champions Cup rugby.

The French teams will be expected to dominate, as ever, in Europe, while at home, Saints will be aware of the plethora of threats. Bath have strengthened significantly, with Fiji scrum-half Nikola Matawalu one of their stand-out recruits, while Wasps are growing ever more powerful and Saracens and Leicester never go away.

Exeter are on an upward curve while Gloucester and Harlequins will expect to do better this time around.

There is no London Welsh this season, no whipping boys.

Worcester will add to the strength of the league - and Saints will hope to avoid their wrath on Friday night.

And how good it will be to see how Jim Mallinder’s men, who have finished in the top four in every season since 2009, negotiate the first of the many weekly hurdles that lie ahead. But whatever the result, it will be good to know there is another game waiting just around the corner.

And it will be another game that means so much to those of a green, black and gold persuasion.

Tom’s prediction: Worcester 18 Saints 25