Tom Vickers' Montpellier v Northampton Saints preview
Fixture: Montpellier v Northampton Saints (Champions Cup Pool 4 - game six)
Date and kick-off time: Friday, January 20, 2017, 7.45pm (GMT)
Venue: Altrad Stadium, Montpellier
Montpellier: Michel; Nagusa, Tomane, Dumoulin, Nadolo; Catrakilis, White; Nariashvili, Geli, Jannie Du Plessis; Willemse, Mikautadze; Ouedraogo (c), Galletier, Qera. Replacements: Mamukashvili, Watremez, Guillamon, Jacques Du Plessis, Battut, O’Leary, Immelman, Martin.
Saints: Tuala; Estelles, Tuitavake, Mallinder, North; Hanrahan, Dickson (c); E Waller, Clare, Hill; Paterson, Craig; Gibson, Nutley, Harrison. Replacements: Fish, A Waller, Brookes, Ratuniyarawa, Ludlam, Kessell, Wilson, K Pisi.
Outs: Saints: Tom Stephenson (leg), Calum Clark (knee), Sam Dickinson (knee), Jamie Elliott (shoulder), Dylan Hartley (suspended - week six of six)
Referee: John Lacey (Ireland)
Most recent meeting: Saturday, October 15, 2016: Saints 16 Montpellier 14 (Champions Cup Pool 4 - game one)
Tom’s preview: The outcome of Friday night’s game at the Altrad Stadium will either provide relief or regret for those of a Saints persuasion.
Because if Jim Mallinder’s men march to Montpellier and win, they will wonder why they were unable to produce a similar display at Castres and Leinster.
They will wonder just how they conceded a total of 101 points in those two chastening encounters that left them bottom of Pool 4.
But if Saints lose to Montpellier, the emotions could be totally different, with the experience likely to be a cathartic one.
If the French team overpower and outclass the team from Northampton, it will be disappointing end to a disappointing Champions Cup campaign.
And Saints will be glad to be rid of it.
They will, of course, want to make sure that isn’t the case.
That they can finish with a French flourish as they continue to lay foundations for the weeks ahead.
Saints have won their past four games in all competitions and know they need to retain the belief those results have provided for when the Premiership returns in February.
That is the main priority now.
Because if Saints can go to Bath and win on February 10, then a top-four spot will move sharply into focus.
They will have a chance to push on and put themselves in a good position for the bid to reach the play-offs.
And to make them, they will need every ounce of confidence and ability they possess, especially with players heading off to the Six Nations.
The next few weeks provide a chance for fringe players to prove their worth, with Mallinder able to mix things up without pressure.
And the Montpellier clash in particular is an opportunity to put the disappointing December display in Dublin to bed for players who haven’t had much of a chance since.
So in France on Friday night, Saints will be desperate to be left asking ‘What if?’ rather than ‘What was that all about?’.
Tom’s prediction: Montpellier 26 Saints 16