Tom Vickers’ Worcester Warriors v Northampton Saints preview

LEADING MAN - Sam Dickinson skippers Saints against Worcester on Friday night
LEADING MAN - Sam Dickinson skippers Saints against Worcester on Friday night

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

Date and kick-off time: Friday, November 18, 2016, 7.45pm

Venue: Sixways, Worcester

Worcester Warriors: Pennell; Hammond, Olivier, Mills, Vuna; Shillcock, Arr; Rapava Ruskin, Annett, Schonert; O’Callaghan, Barry; Potgieter, Kirwan, Dowson (c).

Replacements: Singleton, Leleimalefaga, Daniels, Kitchener, Cox, Dowsett, Adams, Heem.

Saints: Foden; Elliott, Burrell, Hutchinson, Wilson; Myler, Dickson; A Waller, Haywood, Brookes; Paterson, Day; Gibson, Clark, Dickinson (c).

Replacements: Clare, E Waller, Hill, Craig, Nutley, Kessell, Olver, Collins.

Outs: Saints: Tom Stephenson (broken leg), JJ Hanrahan (ankle), Harry Mallinder (ankle), Campese Ma’afu, Dylan Hartley, Courtney Lawes, Api Ratuniyarawa, Teimana Harrison, Tom Wood, Louis Picamoles, George North, Nafi Tuitavake, George Pisi, Ken Pisi (all international duty), Nic Groom (honeymoon)

Referee: Greg Macdonald

Most recent meeting: Saturday, February 27, 2016: Saints 38 Worcester Warriors 18 (Aviva Premiership)

Tom’s preview: There was a sharp reminder from up the M1 this week with the news that Manu Tuilagi is targeting the December 3 derby to make his big return from injury.

Saints’ trip to Welford Road is one of the first fixtures fans look for when the season’s schedule is announced, and the encounter is looming large on the horizon.

But first, Jim Mallinder’s men must navigate matches against Worcester Warriors and Newcastle Falcons as they bid to mantain the momentum provided by three successive wins in all competitions.

In years gone by, beating the Warriors and the Falcons would have almost been a foregone conclusion.

But not now.

Because although the Warriors are languishing second bottom in the Aviva Premiership, they are still just six points behind Saints, who have won three of their seven league matches to date.

And Newcastle are just a point behind Mallinder’s men.

So thoughts of a chasm in class between the sides are non-existent.

Instead, Saints know they will have a real scrap on their hands to keep their winning run intact heading into derby day.

And they have a score to settle at Sixways this week, having lost on their most recent visit to the ground.

That defeat came on the opening night of last season, as Tom Heathcote landed a last-gasp drop goal to seal a dramatic 13-12 win for the then newly-promoted team.

Phil Dowson and Co put everything they had into that game, and they got their rewards.

As for Saints, they struggled to get any kind of foothold in the game, with their attacking game blunt.

They looked like they might escape with a classic smash-and-grab win thanks to four Stephen Myler penalties, but it wasn’t to be.

And now Saints know they must produce a much better display this time round.

First-team regulars should be fresh and firing after taking a break during the Anglo-Welsh Cup wins against Newcastle Falcons and Gloucester.

And others have managed to get valuable game time under their belt.

In theory, it should mean Saints have the perfect mix for the battle with the Warriors.

But as last season’s clash showed, you can never really be sure.

Tom’s prediction: Worcester 15 Saints 20