Northampton Saints v Leicester Tigers: Tom Vickers' big match preview

Fixture: Northampton Saints v Leicester Tigers

Friday, 29th November 2019, 12:25 pm
Updated Friday, 29th November 2019, 12:26 pm
Taqele Naiyaravoro returns against Tigers on Saturday

Competition: Gallagher Premiership (round five)

Venue: Franklin's Gardens, Northampton

Date and kick-off time: Saturday, November 30, 2019, 3pm

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Television coverage: BT Sport 2

Weather forecast: 3c, cloudy

Referee: Matthew Carley (89th Premiership game)

Saints: Furbank; Collins, Proctor, Hutchinson, Naiyaravoro; Biggar, Reinach; Waller (cc), Haywood, O Franks; Moon, Lawes; Wood, Ludlam, Harrison (cc).

Replacements: van Vuuren: van Wyk, Painter, Ratuniyarawa, Gibson, J Mitchell, Dingwall, Tuala.

‚ÄčLeicester Tigers: Worth; May, Tuilagi, Taute, Holmes; Ford, B Youngs; Genge, T Youngs (c), Cole; Lavanini, Green; Wells, Thompson, Kalamafoni.

Replacements: Kerr, Gigena, Leatigaga, Lewis, Coghlan, White, Reid, Forsyth.

Outs: Saints: Harry Mallinder (knee), Alex Mitchell (knee), Reece Marshall (hamstring), Reuben Bird-Tulloch (hand), Henry Taylor (thumb), Ben Franks (elbow), David Ribbans (back), James Fish (head), Piers Francis (shoulder).

Most recent meeting: Saturday, October 12, 2019: Leicester Tigers 22 Saints 31 (Premiership Rugby Cup pool stages)

Tom's preview: It's an East Midlands derby, but not quite as we have known it for some time.

Yes, it will be a sell-out and yes, both teams will be packed with quality players.

But on this occasion, Saints will go into a game against their arch rivals as big favourites.

They may not see it that way internally, but the outside world has taken a look at league positions, style of play and personnel and deemed that this time, for the first time in a long time, Northampton Saints are truly the ones to beat in the East Midlands.

For so long, Leicester have lauded it, inflicting misery upon misery on their nearest and not quite dearest.

Between January 2015 and March 2017, Tigers won all seven clashes with Saints.

And prior to April 2018, Saints had not won at Welford Road since February 2007.

But that run is now over - and how!

The men from Northampton have now won their past three games in their neighbours' backyard.

It has been a sweet streak for those of a black, green and gold persuasion who were right to wonder just when that barren run up the M1 would end.

Some probably feared it never would.

But Saints have played with a swagger and confidence in recent times that has allowed them to shed their tag as gallant derby-day losers.

Now they must show the same belief on home soil, just as they did in May and December of a magical 2014 when Saints edged out Tigers not once but twice.

And both times they did it with 14 men.

Those were displays packed with character and ferocious determination against all the odds.

This time though, the odds will start in their favour.

They will have to deal with more derby-day expectation than ever before.

Because although Tigers still have a star-studded side, they have lacked the sort of game plan and clear identity that has helped to lift Saints from the doldrums.

Chris Boyd's team have been able to play teams off the park at times, just as they did during the second half at Benetton last weekend.

The problems have come when Saints have been drawn into a forward fight, a scrap in the mud.

Tigers may look to utilise that approach this weekend, keeping it tight throughout and hoping to use firepower such as Jonny May and Manu Tuilagi to take chances when they come.

But if Saints can get a grip on things and play what is now the Northampton way, they will be able to live up to their billing and deliver more derby-day joy.

Whatever the outcome, the fact Saints start the game with so much expected and demanded of them is only a good thing.

It shows how far they have come over the years and how well they have built.

Now they need to turn all of that into another precious Premiership win and provide some more local bragging rights.

Tom's prediction: If Saints can get parity up front, I'm backing them to win this one. It certainly won't be easy against a near full-strength Tigers team, but if the hosts get into their groove they can ensure it's a happy derby day for most of the sell-out crowd. Saints 28-23 Tigers.