Northampton Saints v Bath: Tom Vickers' big match preview

Smiles are back on faces at Franklin's Gardens (picture: Kirsty Edmonds)
Smiles are back on faces at Franklin's Gardens (picture: Kirsty Edmonds)

Fixture: Northampton Saints v Bath

Competition: Gallagher Premiership (round 14)

Venue: Franklin's Gardens, Northampton

Date and kick-off time: Saturday, February 23, 2019, 2.45pm

TV coverage: None

Referee: Ian Tempest

Saints: Furbank; Tuala, Hutchinson, Francis, Naiyaravoro; Grayson, Mitchell; Waller (c), Marshall, Hill; Ribbans, Ratuniyarawa; Haskell, Ludlam, Wood.

Replacements: Fish, van Wyk, Franks, Moon, Gibson, Reinach, Burrell, Pisi.

Bath: Atkins; McConnochie, Joseph, Willison, Vuna; Priestland, Chudley (cc); Catt, Dunn, Thomas; Attwood; Charteris (cc); Stooke, Louw, Mercer.

Replacements: Walker, van Rooyen, Lahiff, Ewels, Grant, Green, Burns, Clark.

Outs: Saints: Andy Symons (knee), Harry Mallinder (knee), Tom Emery (shoulder), Mikey Haywood (knee), Dylan Hartley (knee), Teimana Harrison (hamstring), Ehren Painter (illness), Mitch Eadie (hamstring), Courtney Lawes, Dan Biggar, Samson Ma'asi, Alex Coles, Ollie Sleightholme, Fraser Dingwall (all international duty).

Most recent meeting: Saturday, September 22, 2018: Bath 17 Saints 15 (Gallagher Premiership)

Tom's preview: Isn't it amazing how fortunes fluctuate during the course of a season?

Sides can go from also-rans to top-four contenders in the blink of an eye.

If they have a coaching team who can encourage development and the squad manages to stay clear of too many major injuries, it seems almost every Premiership team can target the play-offs.

And for Saints, the journey has not been long but the progress has been fast so far this season.

Last Saturday, they took on a Sale side who went from propping up the Premiership in November to catapulting themselves to the edge of the top-four spots.

But the Sharks found themselves submerged in Northampton, seeing their five-match unbeaten run in the league sunk.

The Saints team they defeated at the AJ Bell Stadium back in November suddenly seemed like the better bet to make the play-offs.

And though no one at the Gardens will be getting carried away, there can be no doubt that Saints' improvement under their current coaching team has been stark this season.

They are putting their attacking play together far more frequently now and, having allied that with some defiant defending last weekend, they looked the full package.

More tough tests will come in the next few weeks, starting with Saturday's game against Bath at the Gardens.

But there can be no doubt that Saints are starting to click, especially when you consider they have now scored 48 tries in their past five games.

They have not just done it against ordinary opposition like Timisoara Saracens and a Leicester second string, they have done it against the likes of Clermont and Sale.

And it just shows what confidence and belief in the system that has been put in place can do.

Saints are now closing in on the top four and having looked at their fixtures with trepidation at the start of the season, supporters will now be much more bullish about what's ahead.

Fans are allowed to be less grounded than the players and confidence in Saints' chances of enjoying what would be considered a successful season is rising.

Now it is up to the players to back up a big performance once again, against a Bath side who also harbour top-four hopes.

But you certainly wouldn't bet against the black, green and gold right now.

Tom's prediction: Saints 30 Bath 14