Northampton Saints v London Irish: Tom Vickers' big match preview

Fixture: Northampton Saints v London Irish

Thursday, 23rd January 2020, 12:11 pm
Updated Thursday, 23rd January 2020, 12:12 pm
James Fish finished things off as Saints secured a superb win at Lyon last Saturday

Competition: Gallagher Premiership (round nine)

Venue: Franklin's Gardens, Northampton

Date and kick-off time: Friday, January 24, 2020, 7.45pm

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Television coverage: BT Sport 2

Weather forecast: 6c, cloudy

Referee: Tom Foley (73rd Premiership game)

Saints: Tuala; Sleightholme, Hutchinson, Francis, Naiyaravoro; Grayson, Reinach; B Franks, Haywood, O Franks; Coles, Ratuniyarawa; Wood, Harrison (c), Eadie.

Replacements: Fish, Waller, Painter, Bean, Tonks, Taylor, Symons, Collins.

London Irish: Stokes; Naholo, Rona, Hepetema, Hassell-Collins; Myler, Meehan; Elrington, Porecki, Kepu; van der Merwe (c), Coleman; Rogerson, Cowan, Tuisue.

Replacements: Atkins, Dell, Hoskins, Mafi, Donnell, Phipps, Stephenson, Williams.

Outs: Saints: Reuben Bird-Tulloch (hand), Jamie Gibson (ankle), David Ribbans (ankle), Matt Proctor (concussion), Fraser Dingwall, George Furbank, Courtney Lawes, Lewis Ludlam, Alex Mitchell, Alex Moon (all international duty).

Most recent meeting: Saturday, February 17, 2018: Saints 25 London Irish 17 (Gallagher Premiership)

Tom's preview: You will often hear rugby coaches and players talk about taking the season in blocks.

They place certain sections of the campaign into compartments, setting mini-targets as they go along.

And Saints have just one more tick to place in the box before they can move on to the next block of matches.

Because after Friday night's home game against London Irish, the black, green and gold will enjoy a hugely unusual mid-season break.

Their elimination at the end of the Anglo-Welsh Cup pool stages was a blessing without the disguise.

And they will soon get the chance to head off on a welcome holiday, recharging the batteries during a brutal post-World Cup campaign.

Their Six Nations stars won't get the same luxury as they have a massive tournament to contend with.

But for those who will carry the can while the international players are away, there is some extremely welcome respite.

It means Saints will be even more determined to win this week, so they can enjoy their mini-break in high spirits.

And it would bring the curtain down in style on a spell when Chris Boyd's boys have shown incredible resilience.

After three successive defeats during December - they lost twice to Leinster and once to Sale Sharks - Saints have rebuilt superbly.

They have ensured the block of games that followed have all been won, often with a bucketload of character.

They didn't have their own way in any of the games, being pushed all the way by Gloucester, Wasps, Benetton and, last Saturday, Lyon.

But to their immense credit, they emerged from those fixtures with 19 points from a possible 20, booking their place in the Champions Cup quarter-finals in the process.

They have shown the style and substance of a top side, overcoming those early-December disappointments and myriad hurdles to earn some crucial maximum hauls.

And now they have one final mission to round off January.

It will not be easy, especially with Irish having strengthened significantly since their return to England's top flight.

They have talented players that Saints know all about, with the likes of Stephen Myler and Tom Stephenson, two of Northampton's double-winners, now wearing Irish colours.

But Saints have the firepower and the home advantage needed to get the win they want.

If they can, they can sit back, take a welcome break and reflect on a job well done during a fantastic few weeks.

But if they can't, those holiday beers will take just a little less sweet.

Tom's prediction: London Irish undoubtedly have some hugely talented players, but Saints will be desperate to go into the break on a high and they have the firepower to deliver victory. Saints 30 London Irish 20.