Benetton Rugby v Northampton Saints: Tom Vickers' big match preview

Fixture: Benetton Rugby v Northampton Saints

Friday, 22nd November 2019, 12:00 pm
Samu Manoa scored a hat-trick the last time Saints played Benetton

Competition: Champions Cup (Pool 1, game two)

Venue: Stadio Comunale di Monigo

Date and kick-off time: Saturday, November 23, 2019, 1pm (GMT)

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Forwards coach Phil Dowson was in action the last time Saints played at Benetton

Television coverage: BT Sport 3

Weather forecast: 13c, showers

Referee: Mike Adamson (Scotland)

Most recent meeting: Saturday, December 13, 2014: Saints 67 Benetton Rugby Treviso 0 (Champions Cup)

Tom's preview: When Benetton - then known as Treviso - turned up in Northampton five years ago, it felt like they had fielded their local butchers, bakers and candlestick makers.

Because so easily did Saints cut through them in the 67-0 success - Samu Manoa and Ken Pisi both bagged hat-tricks - that you felt sympathy for the Italian outfit.

It was the second time in successive weeks that the black, green and gold had bagged a try bonus point against the same opposition, having scored six times in a 38-15 success at Stadio Comunale di Monigo on the previous Saturday.

And overall the two games lived up to the belief that if you were lucky enough to be drawn alongside an Italian team, you would claim maximum points from the two fixtures.

But much has changed since then.

This Benetton team is much bigger and stronger than ones that have gone before.

They don’t crumble when tries start to flow for the opposition.

And they don’t lack the belief that they can mix it with the big guns.

That was extremely evident last Saturday as the Italian outfit rocked up at Leinster’s RDS Arena and immediately set their stall out.

Benetton continually booted kickable penalties to the corner during the first period, showing a willingness to fight fire with fire in lineout drives close to the Leinster line.

They scored from one of them, through Italy lock Dean Budd, and could have had more first-half points for their efforts had they been slightly more clinical.

Leinster did manage to gain a semblance of control, with Ireland centre Garry Ringrose grabbing a hat-trick, but Benetton bit back and were unfortunate to lose by 14 points in a 33-19 defeat.

Despite the reverse, the message was clear: this team is now far from a pushover.

And Saints, who defeated Lyon 25-14 at Franklin’s Gardens last Sunday, know they must find a way over what will be a big obstacle this weekend.

“They’ve only lost once at home this year and that was against Leinster,” said Saints boss Chris Boyd.

“We went to the Champions Cup launch a couple of weeks ago and a couple of the coaches I spoke to there said ‘don’t go down there with the wrong attitude because they’re tough to play at home’."

Saints have won four of their five matches across the Premiership and Champions Cup this season.

But the one they lost came at Bath, where the home side's desire to scrummage for penalties and put the squeeze on at lineout time left Saints struggling late on.

They could face a very similar scenario this weekend, and it will be up to them to improve their discipline.

They are the second-most penalised side in the Premiership this season - three behind London Irish - and shipped plenty of penalties during the second half against Lyon last Sunday.

More of the same and the door will be open for Benetton to play the way that served them well on a few occasions last weekend.

But if Saints can keep on the right side of the referee and hold on to the ball, they can be a match for any team in Europe, as they showed away to Clermont Auvergne on two occasions last season.

They can make any team look sub-standard if they get the chance to play at the pace they desire.

And although it won't be another 67-0 win this weekend, Saints will still feel that they can get the result they want.

Tom's prediction: This is a really tough game for Saints, and not one they can afford to take lightly. I expect Benetton to have their moments, but if Saints can shift them around and be clinical, they can grab the win. Benetton 21 Saints 28.