Northampton Saints v Lyon OU: Tom Vickers' big match preview

Fixture: Northampton Saints v Lyon OU

Friday, 15th November 2019, 12:43 pm
Updated Friday, 15th November 2019, 12:44 pm
Saints met French opposition three times in Europe last season, losing all three matches to Clermont Auvergne

Competition: Champions Cup (Pool 1, match one)

Venue: Franklin's Gardens, Northampton

Date and kick-off time: Sunday, November 17, 2019, 1pm

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Television coverage: BT Sport 2

Weather forecast: 8c, showers

Referee: Frank Murphy (Ireland)

Saints: Furbank; Collins, Hutchinson, Francis, Naiyaravoro; Biggar, Reinach; Waller (cc), Haywood, Painter; Ribbans, Lawes; Wood, Ludlam, Harrison (cc).

Replacements: Fish, van Wyk, O Franks, Ratuniyarawa, Gibson, J Mitchell, Proctor, Tuala.

Lyon: Buttin; Tuisova, Barassi, Ngatai, Nakaitaci; Fernandez, Pélissié (c); Chaume, Maurouard, Ric; Geraci, Goujon; Gill, Sobela, Fearns.

Replacements: Ivaldi, Kaabèche, Bamba, Roodt, Bruni, Couilloud, Wisniewski, Regard.

Outs: Saints: Harry Mallinder (knee), Alex Mitchell (knee), Reece Marshall (hamstring), Rueben Bird-Tulloch (hand), Henry Taylor (thumb), Ben Franks (elbow).

Most recent meeting: No previous meetings

Tom's preview: There's just something different about the first Champions Cup week, isn't there?

It's that extra frisson of excitement that a Challenge Cup curtain raiser just can't provide.

Why? Because with the Champions Cup, you know what level of intensity to expect, you know how much meaning it has and you know just how enjoyable it can be.

That is not to say the Challenge Cup is boring. Far from it.

Ask Saints fans if they enjoyed games against the likes of Clermont and Timisoara last season and they will probably say yes.

Okay, the trip to Timisoara, which was fruitless in terms of actually watching rugby, had its ups and downs, but it was a new experience at least.

Saints supporters got to see their team slay the Dragons in Newport and push Clermont all the way only a couple of occasions at Stade Marcel Michelin.

But there is no doubt that it is good to see the black, green and gold back where they belong: in the big time.

Champions Cup matches just carry more meaning, more intrigue.

It is the best against the best at full bore.

There is none of the rest and rotation often employed in the Challenge Cup.

There is far less margin for error.

And because of that, the stakes are higher in every game and the pressure is piled on right from the start.

That can, of course, make it excruciating at times.

And it can make it painful if you don't get things right early in the competition.

Saints, who won the Heineken Cup in 2000, have mixed agony with ecstasy in their most recent ventures into Europe's top tier tournament.

They have suffered huge defeats and conjured up sensational victories, most notably at the likes of Leinster and Ulster.

And memories of those magical moments will come flooding back as they prepare for their return to the competition this weekend.

As ever, the obstacles will be sizeable, no more so than the one that stands in their way at Franklin's Gardens on Sunday.

When Saints were drawn alongside Lyon, they could at least delight in the fact they wouldn't be facing Clermont yet again.

But this is now looking like an even tougher test against the team currently sitting at the Top 14 summit.

Lyon have won eight of their nine league matches this season, with their only defeat coming at Clermont on October 20.

They are packed full of power and pace, and they will now possess an immense amount of confidence thanks to their flying start to the season.

However, Saints will have to find a way to nullify them as they know they need to win all of their home games - and at least one away - if they are to stand any chance of progressing from Pool 1.

The first two matches are, as ever, crucial.

If Saints can beat Lyon and then win at Benetton, they would be in a brilliant position when they square up to Leinster in the now traditional December double-header.

Lose one or both and their chances of qualifying would already be hanging by a thread.

It really is that cut-throat.

But that is the Champions Cup and that is what Saints want.

They want to be back mixing it with the best, sampling all of the demands that brings.

And that is exactly what they will experience at Franklin's Gardens this weekend.

Tom's prediction: This is a really tough test for Saints against a sizeable and extremely talented Lyon team, who could take some stopping in this season's competition. Saints will have to find a way to nullify the French team's raw power telling. It will be a difficult ask, but I'm backing them to do it. Saints 25 Lyon 24.