Northampton Saints v Bristol Bears: Tom Vickers' big match preview

Fixture: Northampton Saints v Bristol Bears

Friday, 19th March 2021, 12:49 pm
Updated Friday, 19th March 2021, 12:50 pm
Sam Bedlow slotted a penalty with the final kick of the game as Bristol beat Saints back in December
Sam Bedlow slotted a penalty with the final kick of the game as Bristol beat Saints back in December

Competition: Gallagher Premiership (round 14)

Venue: Franklin's Gardens, Northampton

Date and kick-off time: Sunday, January 21, 2021, 3pm

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

Weather: 10c, cloudy

Live television coverage: BT Sport 1

Referee: Tom Foley

Saints: Furbank; Proctor, Dingwall, Hutchinson, Freeman; Grayson, James; Waller (c), Matavesi, Hill; Coles, Ratuniyarawa; Isiekwe, Wood, Harrison.

Replacements: Haywood, Auterac, Painter, Moon, Tonks, Taylor, Francis, Mallinder.

Bristol Bears: Purdy; Adeolokun, O'Conor, Leiua, Naulago; Eden, Uren; Thomas, Byrne, Afoa; Joyce, Vui; Luatua (c), Thomas, Hughes.

Replacements: Capon, Woolmore, Lahiff, Holmes, Heenan, Kessell, Bedlow, Morahan.

Outs: Saints: Shaun Adendorff (knee), Owen Franks (foot), Danny Hobbs-Awoyemi (Achilles), Courtney Lawes (pectoral), Ludlam (concussion), Kayde Sylvester (Achilles), Dan Biggar, Alex Mitchell, David Ribbans (all international duty).

Most recent meeting: Friday, December 4, 2020: Bristol Bears 18 Saints 17 (Gallagher Premiership)

Tom's preview: It's fair to say Saints have got something of a score to settle with Bristol Bears at Franklin's Gardens.

And in recent times, it has only taken one score to settle meetings between these teams.

Bristol have won four successive games against Saints, with three of those decided by less than a converted try.

They have inflicted agony on the black, green and gold in March 2019, February 2020 and, most notably, in December last year.

Saints looked for all the world like they would walk away from Ashton Gate with a morale-boosting win after racing into a comfortable lead.

But Bristol battled back and despite the fact kicker Tiff Eden didn't have the best time from the tee, the Bears sealed the win as replacement fly-half Sam Bedlow stepped up to save the day.

It was gut-wrenching for Saints, who knew what a huge opportunity they had missed.

Bristol were shorn of a laundry list of stars, being forced to put some round pegs in square holes.

But the Bears showed the winning mentality that has been instilled at Ashton Gate as they kept going and eventually had the final say.

At the time, Saints couldn't buy a victory.

But they have now started to bring that winning habit back to Franklin's Gardens.

They have edged close games against top-four rivals such as Exeter Chiefs and Sale Sharks during 2021.

And now they are tasked with doing the same against the current league leaders.

They have proved they can rise to the challenge against some of the Premiership's top sides in recent months.

And now they will have to show they can not only push the league's best, they must take that final step and beat them.

Tom's prediction: Both teams are missing big players this weekend, and Saints must take this chance to topple the Bears to make up for the late heartache of December's defeat at Ashton Gate. Saints 25 Bristol 23.