Tom Vickers’ Northampton Saints v Scarlets preview

Nic Groom returns to the Saints team to face Scarlets

Nic Groom returns to the Saints team to face Scarlets

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Fixture: Northampton Saints v Scarlets (Anglo-Welsh Cup - game four)

Date and kick-off time: Friday, February 3, 2017, 7.45pm

Venue: Franklin’s Gardens, Northampton

Saints: Tuala; K Pisi, Tuitavake, Mallinder, Foden (c); Myler, Groom; E Waller, Haywood, Brookes; Paterson, Day; Gibson, Ludlam, Dickinson.

Replacements: Fish, A Waller, Hill, Ribbans, Craig, Dickson, Hutchinson, Estelles.

Scarlets: D Jones; Williams, Smith, R Jones, Griffiths; McBryde, Lloyd; Robinson, Hughes, Gardiner; Helps, Bernardo; Phillips, S Evans, Allen (c).

Replacements: Fawcett, Myhill, Sebastian, Day, Condy, Cole, Maynard, A Evans.

Outs: Saints: Tom Stephenson (leg), JJ Hanrahan (hand), Jamie Elliott (shoulder), Dylan Hartley, Courtney Lawes, Tom Wood, Teimana Harrison, Louis Picamoles, George North (international duty)

Referee: Craig Maxwell-Keys

Most recent meeting: Saturday, January 23, 2016: Scarlets 10 Saints 22 (Champions Cup)

Tom’s preview: When a coach says the performance is more important than the result, you have to worry for his side.

It is almost a pre-cursor for defeat, stressing that if things go wrong on the scoreboard, it doesn’t matter as long as everyone has given their all.

And that, it seems, is the case for Scarlets at Franklin’s Gardens on Friday night.

After naming his team, the Welsh region’s head coach Ioan Cunningham said: “It’s not so much about the result for us this weekend but the performance; individual performances as well as the team’s performance.

“This competition is a fantastic platform for developing players and it’s important for us to take the opportunity to reward players who have been putting in the performances in the Principality Premiership and the British & Irish Cup campaign.”

Whether facing a strong Saints side on their home turf is a reward could be questionable come full-time on Friday night.

But one thing is for sure, Jim Mallinder’s men should win this one.

While Scarlets have understandably given up the ghost in this competition, having seen their hopes crushed by Saracens last weekend, Saints still have a chance to progress.

If they win and Sarries lose at home to already-qualified Leicester - an unlikely prospect - then Mallinder’s men will march into the semi-finals.

But whether they do or they don’t, they simply have to get back to winning ways after back-to-back defeats.

They had won four games in a row before losing at Montpellier a couple of weeks ago, and with big Premiership games on the horizon, confidence is so important.

With that in mind, allied with the fact Scarlets are already out of the Anglo-Welsh Cup, Saints should open things up in front of their home faithful.

There should be no shackles, just an attempt to play with real style.

Go to the corner on every occasion and try to run in as many tries as possible to give the supporters who turn up plenty to cheer.

The fans who do brave a Friday night in early February for an Anglo-Welsh Cup clash deserve to be entertained.

Because this fixture doesn’t appear to have much appeal, much like the most recent home game against Castres.

On that occasion, Saints kept the paying public entertained with a bonus-point win.

And nothing less will be acceptable this week.

Tom’s prediction: Saints 31 Scarlets 10