Newcastle Falcons v Northampton Saints: Tom Vickers' match preview

Ben Nutley will make his fourth start of the season when Saints head to St James' Park (picture: Sharon Lucey)
Ben Nutley will make his fourth start of the season when Saints head to St James' Park (picture: Sharon Lucey)

​Fixture: Newcastle Falcons v Northampton Saints

Competition: Aviva Premiership

Date and kick-off time: Saturday, March 24, 2018, 5.30pm

Venue: St James' Park, Newcastle

Television coverage: BT Sport 1

Newcastle Falcons: Hammersley; Goneva, Harris, Matavesi, Sinoti; Flood, Young; Lockwood, Cooper, Davison; Green, Robinson; Olmstead, Welch (c), Latu.

Replacements: Lawson, Vickers, Wilson, Witty, Hogg, Stuart, Hodgson, Mermoz.

Saints: Tuala; Tuitavake, Horne, Francis, North; Myler, Groom; Ma'afu, Haywood, Brookes; Ratuniyarawa, Day (c); Ribbans, Gibson, Nutley.

Replacements: Marshall, van Wyk, Ford-Robinson, Paterson, Eadie, Reinach, Mallinder, Foden.

Outs: Saints: Alex Waller (arm), Courtney Lawes (knee), Heinrich Brüssow (hamstring), Dylan Hartley (illness), Luther Burrell (shoulder), James Craig (knee), Tom Wood, Teimana Harrison (suspended - week one of one)

Referee: JP Doyle (149th Premiership match)

Most recent meeting: Friday, December 1, 2017: Saints 22 Newcastle Falcons 24 (Aviva Premiership)

Tom's preview: For the first time in a long time, Saints have nothing other than pride to play for following the conclusion of the Six Nations.

Traditionally, the black, green and gold have been in the mix for a top-four spot or, at the very least, a Champions Cup place.

But this time round, they sit 10th with just five games to go.

They are 15 points off sixth spot - the final Champions Cup slot - and 16 points ahead off bottom side London Irish, who look consigned to relegation.

So with only the odd league position riding on their results for the remainder of the campaign, Saints can afford to take the shackles off.

They did that at Sandy Park last month, playing some sublime rugby as they pushed Exeter Chiefs all the way in an eventual 31-30 defeat.

And another show of style and spirit will certainly be required on Saturday evening as Saints take on a Newcastle side who have had their number in recent times.

The Falcons have won the past four league meetings between the teams, the most recent of which came at Franklin's Gardens back in December.

Newcastle snatched the points from under Saints' noses, scoring with the final play of the game and kicking the conversion to claim the win.

The Falcons are now flying high, sitting in fourth spot, showing what a consistent rebuilding job can do for a club.

Dean Richards has done some superb work in the north east and this weekend, his team will run out in front of more than 25,000 fans at St James' Park.

For Saints, it is a big opportunity to spoil the party in a game being billed at The Big One.

It is certainly big for Newcastle as they look to further their top-four ambitions.

And while it doesn't carry the same significance for Saints, they will hope to make the most of the occasion, using it as a platform to fulfil their potential.

They haven't always done that this season, suffering some heavy home and away defeats.

And with games against Saracens, Leicester and Wasps to come after the Falcons clash, Saints could badly do with a confidence boost.

They have won just once away from home in the league this season, beating London Irish back in September.

And this is the ideal stage on which to end that barren run.

Whether they can do that, it remains to be seen.

But the minimum those supporters who make the long trek north will expect is a show of pride in the shirt.

Anything else will be a one big bonus.

Tom's prediction: Newcastle Falcons 30 Saints 22