Gloucester v Northampton Saints: Tom Vickers' match preview

Smiles are back on the faces at Saints (picture: Kirsty Edmonds)
Smiles are back on the faces at Saints (picture: Kirsty Edmonds)

Fixture: Gloucester v Northampton Saints

Competition: Gallagher Premiership (round one)

Venue: Kingsholm, Gloucester

Date and kick-off time: Saturday, September 1, 2pm

Television coverage: BT Sport 2

Gloucester: Woodward; Sharples, Trinder, Twelvetrees, Banahan; Cipriani, Braley; Rapava-Ruskin, Hanson, Balmain; Slater (c), Galaraza; Ackermann, Ludlow, Morgan.

Replacements: Marais, Hohneck, Knight, Clarke, Polledri, Vellacott, Hudson, Williams.

Saints: Tuala: Tuitavake, Burrell, Francis, Collins; Biggar, Reinach; Waller (c), Fish, Franks; Ribbans, Lawes; Haskell, Brüssow, Harrison.

Replacements: Hartley, van Wyk, Painter, Ratuniyarawa, Ludlam, Mitchell, Grayson, Pisi.

Outs: Saints: Paul Hill (shoulder), Tom Wood (groin), Rory Hutchinson (knee), Dom Barrow, Alex Coles, James Craig, Reece Marshall, Samson Ma'asi, Alex Moon, Toby Trinder.

Referee: Matthew Carley

Most recent meeting: Saturday, January 6, 2018: Saints 22 Gloucester 19 (Premiership)

Tom's preview: For the first time since the summer of 2006, Saints will start the new season under the stewardship of someone other than Jim Mallinder.

After a turbulent 2017/18 campaign, change was necessary at Northampton.

Boss Mallinder paid the price last December and plenty of the players he built his Saints success around followed him out of the door during the summer.

A wave of change has swept across Saints during the close-season with Hurricanes head coach Chris Boyd drafted in.

Boyd is tasked with masterminding a turnaround in fortunes after three seasons of decline.

Since finishing the season top of the Premiership table for the first time in their history in 2015, Saints have slipped steadily down the standings.

They were fifth in 2016, seventh in 2017 and an alarming ninth in 2018.

Needless to say, had that been allowed to continue, they would have been back where Mallinder lifted them from during his first season: in England's second tier.

And so big alterations have been made, bringing with them a renewed positivity at a club that felt like it was going through the motions at times during the previous campaign.

A buzz is back at Franklin's Gardens as supporters look forward to seeing what the new era will bring.

So what exactly will happen under Boyd and what can everyone expect?

Well, there has been a notion that because Boyd has come from coaching in Super Rugby, Saints are suddenly going to become the Harlem Globetrotters of the Premiership.

It is expected that they will fling the ball around with relentless abandon.

But it will take some time for them to click in an attacking sense, even though there have been positive signs during pre-season.

Players need time to bed in, no matter how much quality they possess.

And with key men still getting up to speed, including exciting summer signing Taqele Naiyaravoro, who only arrived this week, patience will be the buzzword.

Saints need time to gel as a team and though pre-season fixtures are a useful experience, there is so much chopping and changing to get minutes into players that you can't really tell how a side will shape up until a couple of months into the new season.

But what we do know is that Saints will not simply abandon the basic principles of rugby just to showcase their style.

During the friendly fixtures, the forwards often stole the show, with lineout drives regularly the order of the day.

Saints were not afraid to mix it up front and there were some really good signs from their pack as they pushed their opponents back over their own line on several occasions.

So good were Saints in that area that hooker James Fish picked up six tries in just three matches, admitting his team-mates had done the hard graft for him.

And there is no doubt that while Boyd wants his men to back themselves, he and his team of Premiership-hardened coaches recognise the importance of doing the dirty work first.

Under forwards coach Phil Dowson, Saints will hope to bring back the dominance they enjoyed during the good times under Mallinder and Dorian West.

But they will also want to ensure that their backs are allowed to get into the game, striking a balance between bludgeoning the opposition and beating them with backs moves.

It is sure to be fascinating to see just how Saints develop under Boyd and his team of hungry coaches.

And though they are aware of the need to get a slick start to build early momentum and belief, they know turning things around at Saints won't happen overnight.

They need time, and they will be given it by the Franklin's Gardens faithful, who savoured Boyd's first home game last Friday.

A dark cloud has been removed from above the Gardens by the winds of change and there will be a renewed enthusiasm as fans attend matches.

Supporters so often went unrewarded for venturing to the stadium last season, watching some horror shows, with some heading for the exits early.

But there is belief that things will start to improve in the not too distant future.

And whatever happens during the first few months of Boyd's tenure, there is a faith that, given time, he will restore this club to its former glories.

It might not be all plain sailing to start off with, but it will certainly be an interesting ride.

So strap yourselves in, the Boyd era is about to begin.

Tom's prediction: Gloucester 27 Saints 21