Northampton Saints v Dragons: Tom Vickers' big match preview

Saints cruised to victory at Rodney Parade in October (picture: Kirsty Edmonds)
Saints cruised to victory at Rodney Parade in October (picture: Kirsty Edmonds)

Fixture: Northampton Saints v Dragons

Competition: European Challenge Cup (Pool 1)

Venue: Franklin's Gardens, Northampton

Date and kick-off time: Saturday, December 8, 2018, 3pm

Television coverage: None

Referee: Thomas Charabas (France)

Saints: Furbank; Sleightholme, Hutchinson, Burrell, Naiyaravoro; Biggar, Mitchell; Waller (c), Fish, Franks; Ratuniyarawa, Moon; Gibson, Wood, Harrison.

Replacements: Marshall, Davis, Painter, Ribbans, Eadie, Reinach, Strachan, Kellaway.

Dragons: Amos, Howells, Warren, Dixon, Kirchner; Lewis, Knoyle; Bevington, Hibbard (c), Fairbrother; Nansen, Evans, Keddie, Cudd, Griffiths.

Replacements: Lawrence, Jarvis, Thomas, Screech, Taylor, Benjamin, Davies, Williams.

Outs: Saints: Ken Pisi (shoulder), Nafi Tuitavake (neck), Andy Symons (knee), Harry Mallinder (knee), James Haskell (ankle), Heinrich Brüssow (concussion), James Craig (concussion), Tom Emery (shoulder), Mikey Haywood (knee), Tom Collins (eye), Piers Francis (shoulder).

Most recent meeting: Friday, October 19, 2018: Dragons 21 Saints 35 (Challenge Cup)

Tom's preview: While Saints would dearly love to be back at Europe's top table as soon as possible, it might be no bad thing that they are dining in slightly less glamorous surroundings again during the next two weeks.

Because after last Saturday's gut-wrenching late defeat to Newcastle Falcons left a sour taste in the mouth, the last thing they need right now is a visit from one of the continent's heavyweights.

What they need is a pick-me-up.

A shot in the arm ahead of the return to the travails of the Gallagher Premiership later this month.

And games against Dragons, who were distinctly unimpressive when Saints beat them back in October, and Romanian side Timisoara Saracens should give them just that.

What the Challenge Cup clashes will also allow them to do is to rest and rotate, giving players crucial breaks ahead of that trip to Worcester Warriors four days before Christmas.

Because there is no doubt at all that the Premiership - and specifically survival - have to be placed firmly at the top of the priority list.

Saints have made no secret of their agenda this season, but should they find themselves in the knock-out stages of either the Challenge Cup or Premiership Rugby Cup then they will obviously bump up the importance of the cup competitions.

Until then, it is about claiming wins while also preserving players for key Premiership battles.

And Saints should be confident that they can do both successfully during the next couple of weeks.

They were far too strong for the Dragons not only in the October meeting but also during pre-season.

And they would not expect to slip up at Timisoara, who have suffered two heavy defeats in Europe so far.

So while some may look on with envious eyes as the Challenge Cup giants slug it out again this weekend, the Challenge Cup will remain the competition Saints need rather than want right now.

Tom's prediction: Saints 32 Dragons 10