Northampton Saints v Harlequins: Tom Vickers' big match preview

Fixture: Northampton Saints v Harlequins

By Tom Vickers
Thursday, 28th April 2022, 5:37 pm
Juarno Augustus scored twice for Saints at Twickenham back in December
Juarno Augustus scored twice for Saints at Twickenham back in December

Competition: Gallagher Premiership

Venue: cinch Stadium at Franklin's Gardens, Northampton

Date and kick-off time: Friday, April 29, 2022, 7.45pm

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Weather forecast: 12c, partly cloudy

Live television coverage: BT Sport 1

Referee: Matthew Carley

Saints: Furbank; Proctor, Dingwall, Hutchinson, Freeman; Grayson, Mitchell; Iyogun, Haywood, Carey; Coles, Ratuniyarawa; Lawes, Ludlam (c), Augustus.

Replacements: Fish, Waller, Hill, Moon, Hinkley, James, Francis, Sleightholme.

Harlequins: Jones; Lynagh, Marchant, Esterhuizen, Murley; Smith, Care; Kerrod, Walker, Louw; Symons, Tizard; Lewies (c), Lawday, Dombrandt.

Replacements: Musk, Garcia Botta, Collier, Chisholm, Wallace, Gjaltema, Allan, David.

Not considered for Saints selection: Matthew Arden, Nick Auterac, Dan Biggar, Teimana Harrison, Sam Matavesi, Ollie Newman, Ehren Painter, David Ribbans, Courtnall Skosan, Kayde Sylvester, Tom Wood, Brandon Nansen.

Most recent meeting: Monday, December 27, 2021: Harlequins 41 Saints 27 (Gallagher Premiership)

Tom's preview: Before Saints pieced together their title-winning season of 2013/14, questions were asked as to whether the team could finally take the next step.

They had showed plenty of promise and reached plenty of big occasions, but they couldn't quite get over the line.

As times, it seemed like they couldn't beat their biggest rivals, always just falling short when it mattered most.

And if this current crop of Saints players is going to achieve the success of that squad from eight years ago, they are going to also have to find a way to change the narrative.

Because while Chris Boyd's side have now moved up to fourth in the Gallagher Premiership standings, league victories against the sides above them still elude them.

They have lost to table-topping Leicester Tigers fairly convincingly on two occasions this season.

And while they have only played Saracens and Harlequins once apiece, they were eventually outgunned in both of those meetings, too.

They were more in those matches than the ones against Tigers.

In fact, Saints were level at 6-6 at half-time before losing 30-6 at home to Saracens.

And they had raced into a 21-7 lead against Harlequins before being beaten 41-27 at Twickenham.

But no matter how close those games seemed at times, they didn't end that way.

And if Saints are to book a play-off place, and more, in the weeks to come, they are going to have to show they believe they can beat these top teams, and that they can actually do it.

They have certainly displayed a huge amount of character since losing at Gloucester on March 5.

Back then, it seemed unthinkable that they would be anywhere near the top four come the end of April.

But not only are they near it, they are now in it.

A joyous streak of four successive bonus-point Premiership wins on the spin has seen to that.

It has been a fantastic run and it could have been even longer because Saints only just lost to Sale, Exeter and Gloucester prior to that.

Had they got over the line in those tight matches, they would almost have achieved their top-four goal.

As it is, there is still so much work to be done against such good sides.

But if Saints want to win anything of note, these are the kind of matches they must win.

They are the kind of matches the 2013/14 team made a habit of prevailing in.

And what that team also had was a rocking Franklin's Gardens behind it, especially in that stunning Friday night success against Tigers in the play-off semi-final.

Saints need a similar atmosphere in front of what should be another big crowd this week.

And if everyone of a black, green and gold persuasion can pull together, there could be more big occasions to come.

Tom's prediction: This is yet another really tough game for Saints, and Quins will pose so many threats. But I'm keeping the faith in Chris Boyd's side this week. Saints 28 Harlequins 25.