Northampton Saints v Dragons: Tom Vickers' match preview

Rory Hutchinson scored Saints' bonus-point try against Exeter last Saturday (picture: Kirsty Edmonds)
Rory Hutchinson scored Saints' bonus-point try against Exeter last Saturday (picture: Kirsty Edmonds)

Fixture: Northampton Saints v Dragons

Competition: Anglo-Welsh Cup (pool stages - game two)

Venue: Franklin's Gardens, Northampton

Date: Saturday, November 11, 2017

Kick-off time: 5.15pm

Television coverage: None

Saints: Mallinder; Estelles, Hutchinson, Stephenson, Pisi; Myler, Reinach; Van Wyk, Marshall, Ford-Robinson; Paterson, Dickinson (c); Wood, Nutley, Eadie.

Replacements: Haywood, Beesley, Hill, Moon, Harrison, Mitchell, Grayson, Foden.

Dragons: Goodchild; Rosser, Thomas, Howard, Hewitt (c); Robson, C Davies; Garrett, Belcher, Fairbrother; Screech, Landman; Wainwright, Roach, Worthington.

Replacements; Ellis, T Davies, Harris, Andrews, Greggains, Leonard, O’Brien, Warren.

Outs: Saints: George North (knee), David Ribbans (ankle), James Craig (concussion), George Furbank (knee/ankle), Christian Day (leg)

Referee: Mike English

Most recent meeting: Saturday, January 25, 2014: Dragons 16 Saints 34 (Anglo-Welsh Cup)

Tom's preview: On Saturday evening, some light should appear at the end of the Saints tunnel.

That is because after a run of games against some of Europe's toughest sides, Jim Mallinder's men finally meet opposition who should be meat and drink for them.

That is not to totally discount the Dragons, but the Welsh region have won just three of their 10 games this season.

Saints have only won four of their 10, but the opposition they have faced has been stronger.

And Mallinder's men have to be confident of slaying the Dragons on Saturday evening.

If they don't, it would be a sizeable shock and one that would leave Saints reeling ahead of the resumption of Aviva Premiership action at Worcester seven days later.

The green, black and gold require a timely shot in the arm ahead of the trip to Sixways, which will be followed by a game against Sale Sharks at the AJ Bell Stadium.

Newcastle Falcons will visit the Gardens in early December to complete a key block of three Premiership games before the Champions Cup makes its pre-Christmas comeback.

And there is no doubting the importance of the next four weeks to Saints' season.

If they can defeat the Dragons and then win at least two of their three league games, they will be in decent shape in two competitions.

If they lose this weekend and things don't get well against Worcester, Sale and Newcastle, the groans around the Gardens will be deafening. And rightly so.

Saints set high standards and they are expected to compete with and beat the sides in front of them.

There is no doubt that things will not be easy, especially for a team that has lost its past five matches and has seen the September swagger disappear in recent times.

But now is the time to regain it.

Saints simply have to get back on track this weekend and deliver a big performance for the fans who turn out to watch them.

Nothing less will be acceptable and nothing less will be expected by the players and coaches themselves.

They have been hurt by the recent run of defeats as they believe they can compete with Europe's elite.

Results have shown otherwise in October and November so far, and now the rebuilding process begins.

Tom's prediction: Saints 42 Dragons 18