Tom Vickers’ Leicester Tigers v Northampton Saints preview

Tom Collins starts at Welford Road (picture: Sharon Lucey)
Tom Collins starts at Welford Road (picture: Sharon Lucey)

Fixture: Leicester Tigers v Northampton Saints (Aviva Premiership round nine)

Date/kick-off time: Saturday, January 9 (3.15pm)

Weather forecast: Light rain, 9C

Referee: Wayne Barnes

Leicester Tigers: Veainu; Betham, Tait, Smith, Thompstone; Williams, B Youngs; Ayerza, T Youngs (c), Cole; De Chaves, Kitchener; Fitzgerald, O’Connor, McCaffrey.

Replacements: Thacker, Mulipola, Balmain, Pearce, Croft, Harrison, Burns, Goneva.

Saints: Foden; Elliott, North, Burrell, Collins; Hanrahan, Dickson; A Waller, Haywood, Hill; Lawes, Matfield; Gibson, Harrison, Dickinson.

Replacements: Hartley, E Waller, Denman, Day, Wood, Kessell, Myler, Mallinder.

Outs: Saints: Corbisiero (knee), Clark (shoulder), Brookes (knee), Fotuali’i (hamstring).

Most recent meeting: Saturday, May 16, 2015: Leicester Tigers 22 Saints 14 (Aviva Premiership)

Tom’s preview: This weekend, Saints will rely on the fearlessness of youth to see them over the line at Welford Road.

Because while there are enough experienced heads in their squad for the trip up the M1, a large proportion of their starting 15 can still consider themselves young, in rugby terms.

In fact, of the men who will cross enemy lines ahead of the first whistle on Saturday, only one - South Africa legend Victor Matfield - is older than 30 and nine have yet to reach 26.

But while some outsiders may see that as a worry - it is said age brings a calm head in such hostile environments - regular Saints viewers will not.

Anyone who watched the club’s most recent game, the New Year’s Day win against Exeter, will know it was the youngsters who came to the fore in the pressure situation.

Mike Haywood, Paul Hill, Teimana Harrison and Tom Collins all stood up to be counted, leading Saints to a gritty victory against the Chiefs.

And those young guns will again be asked to fire against their club’s oldest rivals this weekend.

They are all largely unburdened by history.

With the exception of Hill, they have all played at Welford Road before.

And they have all tasted defeat there.

But they have not been subjected to the continual grind of defeats at Leicester.

They may have sustained one or two, but they have not been going to Welford Road since 2007, hoping that this is the time they can emulate the Saints team of February that year.

That was the last time Northampton won at Leicester, with Mark Robinson’s magnificent individual try helping to secure a gritty 10-9 win.

And on that day, injury-hit Saints were forced to call on a number of youngsters as they stole the spoils.

So could history repeat itself this time round?

Saints have come close to ending their barren run at Welford Road in recent times, drawing 19-19 at Welford Road in October, 2013.

But they have just been unable to get the job done against a Tigers team who refuse to give up their proud home record.

This weekend though, Saints will call on a number of players who haven’t been dented by the past.

The likes of Matfield and JJ Hanrahan will be making their first starts in an east midlands derby, while Jamie Gibson has won plenty of matches at Welford Road in Tigers colours.

And if they need any back-up, then the likes of Dylan Hartley, Christian Day and Tom Wood are on the bench, ready to add some late know-how.

But the youngsters have earned their chance.

If you are good enough, you are old enough. And the players Saints will rely on this weekend, are certainly that.

Haywood started in both of Saints’ final victories in 2014, while Hill is a Junior World Championship winner and Harrison has been his club’s best player since early December.

Collins has thrived in environments such as this before, being parachuted into the team at late notice when they stunned Leinster in Dublin in December, 2013.

So these players - Haywood aside - may not have the experience of a Hartley or a Wood, but they have shown they can handle the big stage.

Put simply, this kind of game doesn’t scare them - and for Saints to have players like that who as young and talented as they are, is a huge positive going forward.

For now though, they will only be thinking about the short term and claiming those precious bragging rights.

Tom’s prediction: Leicester 25 Saints 16