Full Saints injury update ahead of clash with Worcester Warriors
Dylan Hartley will miss Saints' game against Worcester Warriors on Saturday - but the England hooker is likely to be ready to face Exeter Chiefs on the final day of the regular season.
Hartley has not played since the victory at Worcester on December 21 due to a knee injury, which he had surgery on in February.But the 33-year-old has been back in training in recent weeks and is now very close to a return to action.Fourth-placed Saints will look to take another step towards booking a Gallagher Premiership play-off place when the Warriors come calling at Franklin's Gardens this weekend.The black, green and gold have the following weekend off as the European finals take centre stage in Newcastle.And Saints will then finish their regular-season campaign against table-topping Exeter at Sandy Park on Saturday, May 18.It looks extremely likely that Hartley will be back to compete for a starting spot in that match."His most likely defined return to play weekend was next weekend, which is the European cup finals weekend," explained Saints boss Chris Boyd."That was always the target and obviously when we got knocked out of Europe, the target became plus a week or minus a week."He's training with the team now. He did a lineout session this morning with the team and he's really close."I would be very surprised if he doesn't play in the game against Exeter."He's worked incredibly hard."If this weekend was our last game of the season and he had nothing else to consider, he'd probably sit on the bench for us, so he's really close."There are some bigger pictures in play so we're mindful of the fact that we need to make sure that not only has his knee recovered but he's in a situation we can comfortably put him into a game and he's going to survive it."Saints look set to be boosted by the return of two players this weekend as Piers Francis (knee) and George Furbank (concussion) are expected to recover in time to face Worcester.Ehren Painter made his comeback in the Wanderers' Premiership Rugby Shield semi-final defeat at Saracens on Monday night.But Ollie Sleightholme, who was also making his return from injury, and James Grayson picked up knocks in that match and are unlikely to feature this weekend.Andy Symons (knee), Harry Mallinder (knee), Mikey Haywood (knee), Paddy Ryan (knee), Fraser Dingwall (ankle), David Ribbans (ankle), James Fish (concussion), Heinrich Brüssow (concussion), Alex Moon (ankle), James Craig (hamstring), Lewis Ludlam (shoulder), James Haskell (toe) and Nafi Tuitavake (elbow) also appear likely to miss out on Saturday.