Dragons v Northampton Saints: Tom Vickers' big match preview

Alex Mitchell gets his first Saints start on Friday night (picture: Kirsty Edmonds)
Alex Mitchell gets his first Saints start on Friday night (picture: Kirsty Edmonds)

Fixture: Dragons v Northampton Saints

Competition: Challenge Cup (Pool 1, game two)

Venue: Rodney Parade, Newport

Date and kick-off time: Friday, October 19, 2018, 7.30pm

TV coverage: None

Referee: Mathieu Raynal (France)

Dragons: J Williams; Kirchner, Morgan, Sage, Rosser; Lewis, R Williams; Harris, Dee, Brown; Evans, Hill (c); Wainwright, Griffiths, Moriarty.

Replacements: Hibbard, Jarvis, Fairbrother, Screech, Taylor, Davies, Warren, Talbot-Davies.

Saints: Tuala; Collins, Kellaway, Francis, Naiyaravoro; Biggar, Mitchell; Waller (c), Haywood, Franks; Ribbans, Lawes; Gibson, Wood, Harrison.

Replacements: Fish, van Wyk, Painter, Barrow, Ludlam, Reinach, Grayson, Burrell.

Outs: Saints: Paul Hill (shoulder), Rory Hutchinson (knee), Toby Trinder (foot), Ken Pisi (shoulder), Heinrich Brüssow (concussion), Nafi Tuitavake (neck), Andy Symons (knee), Jamal Ford-Robinson (knee), Api Ratuniyarawa (ankle), Tom Emery (ankle),Harry Mallinder (knee), James Haskell (ankle)

Most recent competitive meeting: Saturday, November 11, 2017: Saints 41 Dragons 7 (Anglo-Welsh Cup)

Tom's preview: Saints' next four games might not exactly be the most glamorous.

But they are certainly far from meaningless.

With the Premiership is clearly the priority, Challenge Cup and Premiership Rugby Cup matches must be used to build momentum.

And after last Saturday's sobering 41-20 defeat to Clermont Auvergne, their importance continues to grow.

Any win will do right now as Chris Boyd's men try to hold on to the confidence that the new boss's arrival brought during the summer.

Defeats chip away at morale, while wins breed belief. And Saints have been suffering far too many of the former at the start of the current campaign.

The message has been loud and clear at the Gardens this week: 'We still believe'.

And now Saints must show that in their performance at Rodney Parade on Friday night.

Last weekend, they came up against a team that was just too good.

Clermont Auvergne would be far more at home in the Champions Cup than the Challenge Cup.

They are top of the Top 14 and have a selection of world stars in most positions.

Saints, meanwhile, are at the start of a rebuilding process.

And their development will be much easier to judge against teams like the Dragons, who are also in something of a transitional stage following some strong summer recruitment.

Defeats to Clermont and Saracens and, to some extent, Leicester, Bath and Gloucester, can happen.

But as Tom Collins pointed out this week, the summer of change at Saints can't be used as an excuse forever.

The players and coaches are well aware that they must start turning performances into points.

And the next few weeks, ahead of the return to Premiership action against Wasps on November 17, are exactly the time to do it.

Saints will need to iron out disciplinary and skill errors if they are to get the wins they want.

Basics have not been done to a consistent extent this season, with Saints so often undoing their own good work during games.

And the set piece has also been a big issue during certain defeats.

But they were too strong for the Dragons in that area during the second half of the 42-10 pre-season win at Rodney Parade.

And they will hope that continues in the competitive meeting on Friday night.

Saints need to string a performance together for 80 minutes - and put a run of wins together in the next four weeks.

The personnel may change plenty, but the results must be consistent.

Because when the Premiership returns, Saints will need a platform to build on as they look to climb a potentially slippery ladder in the months to come.

Tom's prediction: Dragons 18 Saints 28