Northampton Saints v Racing 92: Tom Vickers' big match preview

Fixture: Northampton Saints v Racing 92

By Tom Vickers
Thursday, 9th December 2021, 12:15 pm
Updated Thursday, 9th December 2021, 12:16 pm
Alex Waller in action for Saints during their 9-9 draw with Racing 92 back in December 2015
Alex Waller in action for Saints during their 9-9 draw with Racing 92 back in December 2015

Competition: Heineken European Champions Cup

Venue: cinch Stadium at Franklin's Gardens, Northampton

Date and kick-off time: Friday, December 10, 2021, 8pm

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Weather: 3c, clear

Live television coverage: BT Sport 2

Referee: Mike Adamson (Scotland)

Saints: Furbank; Freeman, Proctor, Dingwall, Skosan; Biggar, Mitchell; Auterac, Matavesi, Painter; Ribbans, Ratuniyarawa; Wilkins, Ludlam (c), Augustus.

Replacements: Fish, Waller, Carey, Coles, Wood, Lomani, Hutchinson, Sleightholme.

Racing 92: Beale; Thomas, Vakatawa, Fickou (c), Imhoff; Russell, Machenaud; Gogichashvili, Baubigny, Oz; Jones, Le Roux; Diallo, Lauret, Tanga.

Replacements: Chat, Ben Arous, Gomes Sa, Bresler, Chouzenoux, Gibert, Chavancy, Taofifenua.

Not considered for Saints selection: Callum Burns, Piers Francis, Teimana Harrison, Oisín Heffernan, Paul Hill, Courtney Lawes, Dani Long-Martinez, Taqele Naiyaravoro, Kayde Sylvester.

Most recent meeting: Friday, December 18, 2015: Saints 9 Racing 92 9 (Champions Cup pool stages)

Tom's preview: It's all gone a bit Forrest Gump at cinch Stadium at Franklin's Gardens during the past week.

Last Saturday, boss Chris Boyd described his side's performance in the 40-19 win against Bath as 'like a box of chocolates', swinging between good and atrocious.

And now Saints are preparing to face a Racing 92 side from whom they probably don't know what they're going to get.

That is because though the French giants boast a star-studded squad, created with the desire to go all the way in the Champions Cup, their recent performances have not been good.

Racing have lost each of their past three matches, slipping to eighth in the Top 14 in the process.

And though Boyd was firm in saying he is reading absolutely nothing into those results, insisting Racing are targeting European glory over domestic joy, there is no doubt there are a few chinks in their expensively-assembled armour.

It is not as simple as just switching off in the league and switching on in the Champions Cup.

And Saints, buoyed by bonus-point wins against Bristol Bears and Bath, have to believe that they can add to the Racing misery this week.

However, they are under no illusions as to the size of the task that awaits them.

This will be a significant step up from anything they have faced so far this season.

They will not only have to lift their physicality levels through the roof to compete, they will also have to make sure their skill execution is perfect when the time comes.

Saints have done well against French sides at the Gardens in Europe of late, losing just two of their past 12 home games against Top 14 opposition in the Champions Cup.

And memories of their home and away wins against Lyon on the way to the 2019/20 quarter-final are still fresh in the memory.

But Racing, like the Clermont Auvergne teams who have given Saints so much trouble, have so many threats across the pitch.

And if they are allowed any chance to play their natural game, the black, green and gold know they will be in serious trouble.

In a competition where you only play four pool matches, every minute counts.

And Saints will have to improve markedly when it comes to discipline in defence, because that is an area that has threatened to derail them in the league this season.

Racing will exploit any weakness, but Saints must also do the same.

They now have the experience in their squad to step up on these big occasions, and what a statement it would be if they could open the competition with a win this week.

Tom's prediction: Saints have shown they can slay French giants at home in Europe in recent years, but this Racing team is just so strong it's hard to see how the hosts win this one. Saints 18 Racing 31.