Rested Saints seek key win at Kingsholm
While the Saints players were putting their feet up during Christmas Day and the couple that followed it, Gloucester were steeling themselves for a trip to Twickenham.
The Cherry and Whites squared up to Harlequins in Big Game 9 on Tuesday, losing 28-24, meaning they will have had just five days’ rest ahead of Sunday’s clash with Saints at Kingsholm.
In contrast, Jim Mallinder’s men have had a hugely relaxing time, having sailed past Sale Sharks at Franklin’s Gardens last Friday night.
And they will hope that the extra time they have been able to spend away from the rugby field allows them to reap rewards this weekend.
“It is a big game,” said Saints boss Jim Mallinder.
“They played on Tuesday in a big game at Twickenham so that’s tough for them to refocus on New Year’s Day.
“But we can’t worry too much about them.
“We’ve had a few days off, we had Christmas and we’ve come back in, and we’ll go down there and do everything we can to get the win we want.”
Saints and Gloucester are currently ensconced in mid-table in the Aviva Premiership.
Neither have enjoyed remarkable starts to the campaign, with form mixed at both Kingsholm and Franklin’s Gardens.
But both teams will see the start of 2017 as a chance to turn over a new leaf in the pursuit of a top-four place.
And while that goal looks a long way off for both clubs, the bare minimum, especially for Saints, will be the Champions Cup qualification that a top-six spot brings.
Saints secured that last season thanks to a 28-20 victory at Gloucester on the final day of the previous campaign.
And they will be in confident mood of a repeat performance, especially as most of their international players were rested for the recent defeat in Dublin and have now only played once in the past few weeks.
“I don’t need to justify it, but we were out of Europe and it made more sense to make some changes,” Mallinder said of the recent Dublin drubbing, for which he made 10 changes.
“We shouldn’t have lost by the amount of points we did in Dublin, you can’t get away from that, but what we saw was the benefit of doing that and the players we left out led the team superbly last Friday.
“Courtney Lawes was outstanding. Louis Picamoles was also brilliant - in that first half hour he was doing everything.
“And Tom Wood, who had a really heavy cold during the first part of the week and couldn’t really train, did really well and he was never going to miss the game for us.”
Saints’ win against Sale came courtesy of tries from Ben Foden, Wood and Luther Burrell, with Stephen Myler adding nine points with the boot.
There was a feelgood factor around Franklin’s Gardens for the first time in a while.
And Mallinder said: “I thought the fans were really good and they got behind the team.
“As you always do, we got put under pressure at times and they really supported the side.
“We defended well and got some good turnovers.
“The lads put everything out there, led by our top international players, who I thought were really, really good and inspired the team.
“Hopefully we can back that performance up this weekend.”