Northampton Saints v Newcastle Falcons: Tom Vickers' match preview
Fixture: Northampton Saints v Newcastle Falcons
Competition: Aviva Premiership (round 10)
Venue: Franklin's Gardens, Northampton
Date: Friday, December 1, 2017
Kick-off time: 7.45pm
Television coverage: BT Sport 1
Saints: Mallinder; Estelles, Horne, Stephenson, Foden; Grayson, Reinach; Waller, Hartley (c), Hill; Paterson, Lawes; Wood, Gibson, Harrison.
Replacements: Haywood, van Wyk, Ford-Robinson, Ratuniyarawa, Eadie, Groom, Francis, Tuala.
Newcastle Falcons: Hammersley; Goneva, Harris, Matavesi, Sinoti; Flood, Takulua; Vickers, Cooper, Welsh; Green, Robinson; Welch (c), Graham, M Wilson.
Replacements: Lawson, Mavinga, S Wilson, Witty, Latu, Stuart, Hodgson, Tait.
Referee: Craig Maxwell-Keys (42nd Premiership game)
Most recent meeting: Sunday, February 19, 2017: Newcastle Falcons 46 Saints 31 (Aviva Premiership)
Tom's preview: If not now, when?
That is the question for Saints this week as they bid to end their losing streak in the league.
Jim Mallinder's men are presented with a huge opportunity to turn the tide and return some sort of pre-Christmas cheer to Franklin's Gardens.
Like Saints, Newcastle Falcons have been misfiring of late.
They too have lost their past four Premiership matches.
And though they are boosted by the return of some key men this week, so are Saints.
On home turf, this is a fixture Mallinder's men are expected to win.
They also looked to have a good chance of defeating Worcester and Sale in the past two weeks, but fluffed their lines.
Now there is no wriggle room.
They simply have to arrest their slide ahead of tricky clashes with Exeter Chiefs and Harlequins later this month.
They need to retain the defensive desire they showed at Sale last Saturday, while significantly improving their discipline.
The scrummaging display was far better at the AJ Bell Stadium and Saints will know it will have to be good again, to stop the Falcons getting the ball they need to feed their backs.
In Sonatane Takulua, Sinoti Sinoti and former Leicester Tigers star Vereniki Goneva, Falcons have three of the most exciting attacking players in the league.
And they will fancy their chances of hot-stepping the Saints defence on a freezing night at the Gardens.
Needless to say, if Saints can snuff them out, they will stand a good chance of getting the win they want.
But they will know there have been too many ifs and buts in recent weeks and months.
Now is the time to start afresh and turn this season around.
If Saints don't do it this week, the atmosphere will be as frosty as the weather at Franklin's Gardens.
Tom's prediction: Saints 17 Newcastle 11