Bristol Bears v Northampton Saints: Big match preview for the Ashton Gate clash

Fixture: Bristol Bears v Northampton Saints
Saints lost to Bristol at the Gardens back in October (photo by Peter Nicholls/Getty Images)Saints lost to Bristol at the Gardens back in October (photo by Peter Nicholls/Getty Images)
Saints lost to Bristol at the Gardens back in October (photo by Peter Nicholls/Getty Images)

Competition: Gallagher Premiership

Venue: Ashton Gate, Bristol

Date and kick-off time: Friday, March 22, 2024, 7.45pm

Weather forecast: 7c, clear

Live television coverage: TNT Sports

Referee: Craig Maxwell-Keys

Assistant referees: Tom Foley and John Meredith

No.4: Paul Dix

TMO: Rowan Kitt

Bristol Bears: Heward; Naulago, van Rensburg, Williams, Ibitoye; MacGinty, Randall; Thomas, Oghre, Sinckler; Dun, Batley; Luatua, Harding ©, Bradbury.

Replacements: Davies, Genge, Lahiff, Owen, Heenan, Marmion, Ravouvou, Malins.

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Saints: Hendy; Ramm, Odendaal, Hutchinson, Sleightholme; F Smith, McParland; Iyogun, S Matavesi, Davison; Mayanavanua, Coles; Lawes, Ludlam (c), Graham.

Replacements: Langdon, A Waller, Hill, Lockett, Augustus, Garside, Dingwall, Litchfield.

Not considered for Saints selection: Callum Braley, George Furbank, Tom James, Elliot Millar Mills, Tom Seabrook.

Most recent meeting: Saturday, October 21, 2023: Saints 27 Bristol Bears 33 (Gallagher Premiership)

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Bristol Bears director of rugby Pat Lam: “We’re excited. It’s been a really unusual time in terms of how you manage it and who’s got it right and who’s got it wrong – we’ll find out over the next six games. Players, staff, fans – this is going to be a collective effort. Saints are obviously one of the best attacking sides but they’ve fixed their defence with Lee Radford doing a really good job. In the race, they’re right out in front, but it’s our job to pull them back. We always have really good fixtures against them. They are having a really good season but the way we see it is that we’ve been at the back of the pack and we’ve fought hard to get ourselves back in contention and join the pack. These next two games, starting with Saints, give us a great opportunity to get right amongst it.”

Saints director of rugby Phil Dowson: “It's two sides who want to try to move the ball to space. They're one of the sides who are exciting to watch and not necessarily exciting to play against because you're always on the edge of your seat as they've got world class players who can open you up. Hopefully it's going to be a good exhibition of what the game is about but we have to make sure we don't get into a game of basketball and it becomes ping-pong, you-score-we-score. We need to assert some dominance over that."

Opposition dangerman: Powerhouse centre Benhard Janse van Rensburg really gets Bristol on the front foot, and if he isn’t contained he has the ability to do real damage to any team he comes up against.

Tom Vickers’ prediction: Another lively encounter will be expected at Ashton Gate as two sides who were in really good form prior to the pause in Premiership action go head to head. Bristol have plenty of threats and will be buoyed by January wins against Sale and Bath, but Saints have the ability to get the job done if they can show composure in front of a big crowd. Bristol 27 Saints 32.

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