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

Fixture: Northampton Saints v Leicester Tigers

By Tom Vickers
Friday, 29th October 2021, 12:23 pm
Updated Friday, 29th October 2021, 12:26 pm
Matt Proctor
Matt Proctor

Competition: Gallagher Premiership

Venue: cinch Stadium at Franklin's Gardens, Northampton

Date and kick-off time: Saturday, October 30, 2021, 3pm

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Weather forecast: 13c, showers

Live television coverage: BT Sport 3

Referee: Tom Foley

Saints: Hutchinson; Skosan, Proctor, Dingwall, Collins; Biggar, Mitchell; Waller (c), Matavesi, Painter; Ribbans, Ratuniyarawa; Wood, Harrison, Augustus.

Replacements: Haywood, Auterac, Hill, Moon, Coles, Lomani, Grayson, Litchfield.

Leicester Tigers: Burns; Potter, Moroni, Kelly, Nadolo; Ford (c), Wigglesworth; van Wyk, Montoya, Cole; Wells, Snyman; Chessum, van Staden, Wiese.

Replacements: Cowan-Dickie, Leatigaga, Heyes, Green, Reffell, van Poortvliet, Hegarty, Murimurivalu.

Not considered for Saints selection: Matthew Arden, Callum Burns, Piers Francis, Oisin Heffernan, George Hendy, Dani Long-Martinez, Taqele Naiyaravoro, Ollie Newman, Ollie Sleightholme, JJ Tonks, Ahsee Tuala.

Most recent meeting: Saturday, April 24, 2021: Leicester Tigers 18 Saints 23 (Gallagher Premiership)

Tom's preview: On Saturday afternoon, more than 15,000 fans will fill a sold-out cinch Stadium at Franklin's Gardens for one of the biggest games of the Gallagher Premiership season.

However, some of the competition's biggest names will not be on the field.

Not because they are playing elsewhere, but because they have been at a training camp.

Yes, a training camp.

England spent Monday to Friday in Jersey preparing for the Autumn Nations Series, which doesn't even start until next weekend.

The timing of the camp and where it was held borders on the ridiculous.

Not only is it Saints-Tigers this weekend, but there is also Harlequins-Saracens and Gloucester-Exeter.

These are some of the biggest fixtures the Premiership has to offer.

And the stature of those games only serves to amplify how strange it is to hold a training camp that prevents top players turning out for their clubs.

It is a kick in the teeth for the Premiership, whichever way you look at it.

Can you imagine if England football manager Gareth Southgate had held a training camp last week that stopped star men from Manchester United and Liverpool squaring up on Sunday?

There would have been uproar.

Of course, in rugby union, it is very much club over country.

And that is accepted by every coaching team in the Premiership.

But it is really hard to stomach that Saints will be without two full-backs, George Furbank and Tommy Freeman, and two hugely influential forwards for one of the biggest games of their season without a Test match even taking place this weekend.

Lewis Ludlam would have skippered Saints against Tigers.

And Courtney Lawes would have clearly loved to get stuck into his team's old rivals.

But the only place Lawes will be able to take on the likes of George Martin and Ben Youngs this weekend is in Jersey, away from the eyes of the public.

And when you consider rugby's attempts at growth, it seems farcical that rather than turning out on live television, those battles took place on a training field far from home with no one but the rest of the England camp watching on.

Yes, Saints-Tigers, Quins-Saracens and Gloucester-Exeter will still be fixtures full of entertainment for those who pay to watch them, either in person or on BT Sport.

But those games really should see the best of the best take on the best of the rest.

And the fact a training camp that finishes eight days before a fixture against the team ranked 15th in the world, Tonga, has ruined that prospect just beggars belief.

It is a situation that could have been avoided, and should be avoided in the future.

Whether it will be seems unlikely.

As for the game itself at the Gardens this weekend, this is a meeting between two East Midlands rivals on the rise.

Not since 2015 have Saints and Tigers finished in the top four at the same time.

But both occupy lofty league positions at the start of this campaign.

Tigers will come to town seeking a seventh win from as many league games, while Saints will be looking for a fifth from six matches.

Chris Boyd's side would dearly love to be the team that takes Tigers' unbeaten record away from them.

And hopes will be high at the Gardens.

But Leicester are now a team used to winning, and they are finally a force to be reckoned with once again.

They will look to grind Saints down up front and strike when they get their chances out wide.

As for the black, green and gold, this is a chance to make a statement.

To show they won't be bullied by their local rivals and to display an all-court game that they have only been able to show sporadically.

A win against Tigers would be a huge boost ahead of tough away league games at Sale Sharks and Bristol Bears.

And also, crucially, it would deliver those must-prized bragging rights.

If Saints want to be in the hunt for silverware at the end of the season, these are the high-pressure occasions they must thrive in.

And if they can do that this weekend, they will show that there is more than one previously sleeping East Midlands giant in the play-off picture this season.

Tom's prediction: This could be a really nervy encounter at the Gardens, but with their home fans behind them, I'm backing Saints to edge it. Saints 27 Tigers 23.