Clermont Auvergne v Northampton Saints: Tom Vickers' big match preview

Saints lost 37-5 at Clermont Auvergne in the Champions Cup quarter-final back in 2015
Saints lost 37-5 at Clermont Auvergne in the Champions Cup quarter-final back in 2015

Fixture: Clermont Auvergne v Northampton Saints

Competition: European Challenge Cup (quarter-final)

Venue: Stade Marcel Michelin, Clermont-Ferrand

Date and kick-off time: Sunday, March 31, 2019, 6pm (UK time)

Television coverage: BT Sport 3

Referee: George Clancy (Ireland)

Clermont Auvergne: Nanai Williams; Penaud, Betham, Naqalevu, Raka; Lopez, Parra (c); Falgoux, Kayser, Slimani; Timani, Jedrasiak; Yato, Iturria, Lee.
Replacements: Ulugia, Kakabadze, Simutoga, Lapandry, Fischer, Laidlaw, Tuicuvu, Grosso.

Saints: Furbank; Collins, Hutchinson, Francis, Naiyaravoro; Biggar, Reinach; Waller (c), Fish, Hill; Moon, Ratuniyarawa; Lawes, Ludlam, Harrison.
Replacements: Marshall, van Wyk, Franks, Gibson, Brüssow, Mitchell, Tuala, Burrell.

Outs: Saints: Andy Symons (knee), Harry Mallinder (knee), Mike Haywood (knee), Dylan Hartley (knee), Ehren Painter (calf), Paddy Ryan (knee), James Haskell (toe), Fraser Dingwall (ankle), David Ribbans (ankle).

Most recent meeting: Saturday, January 12, 2019: Clermont Auvergne 48 Saints 40 (European Challenge Cup quarter-final)

Tom's preview: If there is one thing we've learned about Saints this season it is to expect the unexpected.

It has been some roller-coaster ride since new boss Chris Boyd arrived to bring a breath of fresh air to Franklin's Gardens.

There have been some lows - such as unexpected home defeats to the likes of Newcastle and Bristol - and plenty of highs - like the wins against Exeter and Leicester.

Saints have shown no fear, especially during the past few months as they have adapted to the style of play the coaches have put in front of them.

And though they will be huge underdogs this weekend, you wouldn't bet against them doing something special at Stade Marcel Michelin.

They came so close to upsetting the odds against Clermont back in January, pushing Les Jaunards to the limit in a 48-40 defeat.

It was a vast improvement on the 41-20 defeat to the same side back in October and it demonstrated just how far Saints have come this season.

But it can't be denied that they will need their biggest and best performance by far if they are to win a quarter-final tie against a team who are so formidable.

Clermont are second in the Top 14 and steamrollered their way to maximum points in the Challenge Cup pool stages.

They possess an array of world stars capable of defeating any team on their day.

And they will not lack motivation in a knockout tie.

But Saints will go and try to play their own way.

The speed they played at last Friday at Leicester was frightening, and it almost felt as though you were watching the game on fast forward at times.

If they can get their hands on the ball and deliver that sort of tempo, they can shift this big Clermont team around, as they did in January.

But they must improve at the other end of the field from the two showings against Clermont so far.

The power and accuracy of the Top 14 team is so hard to live with, and they regularly ran over Saints in the two meetings earlier this season.

With perhaps the most vociferous set of supporters in Europe at their backs, they are capable of running riot.

And unless Saints can match their physicality, it will be another difficult night at Stade Marcel Michelin.

However, if Boyd's men can somehow get close to parity in the contact area, they have the ability to trouble their hosts.

Power can be beaten by pace.

But Saints will need plenty of both if they are to keep their hopes of the treble alive at the familiar French stomping ground on Sunday evening.

Tom's prediction: Clermont 30 Saints 22

Tom Wood and Co after Saints' defeat at Clermont in 2015

Tom Wood and Co after Saints' defeat at Clermont in 2015

Luther Burrell was in action at Stade Marcel Michelin in the last-eight tie four years ago

Luther Burrell was in action at Stade Marcel Michelin in the last-eight tie four years ago