Tom Vickers' Northampton Saints v Bath preview
Fixture: Northampton Saints v Bath (Aviva Premiership - round 21)
Date/kick-off time: Saturday, April 30 (3.15pm)
Weather forecast: 12C, showers
Referee: Wayne Barnes
Teams: Saints: Foden; K Pisi, G Pisi, Burrell, North; Myler, Dickson (c); A Waller, Haywood, Brookes; Lawes, Day; Gibson, Wood, Harrison. Replacements: Marshall, Ma’afu, Hill, Matfield, Nutley, Fotuali’i, Hanrahan, Mallinder.
Bath: Watson; Williams, Joseph, Devoto, Banahan; Priestland, Cook; Catt, Webber, Wilson; Ewels, Attwood; Garvey, Louw (c), Denton. Replacements: Dunn, Auterac, Lahiff, Day, Houston, W Homer, Ford, Clark.
Outs: Saints: Hartley (concussion), Clark (shoulder), Stephenson (foot), Fisher (arm)
Most recent meeting: Saturday, December 5, 2015: Bath 11 Saints 13 (Aviva Premiership - round six)
Tom’s preview: Tom Wood says it would be an ‘absolute tragedy’ and Christian Day just insists it would simply not be good enough.
The experienced forwards were talking about how they would view the situation should Saints miss out on the top six this season.
From finishing top of the Aviva Premiership pile for the first time in their history last time round, Northampton have slipped down the standings this year.
And while they have spent time thinking about cementing a top-four spot, other sides have appeared in the rear view mirror, putting pressure on their bid to simply earn a Champions Cup place for next season.
For Saints not to be part of European club rugby’s premier competition would be viewed as a huge underachievement.
They don’t want to be travelling to European outposts for Challenge Cup games next season.
They want to be mixing it with Toulon and Toulouse.
They want to be dining at the same table as Leinster and Leicester.
They want to be in contention to claim the trophy that either Saracens or Racing 92 will lift in Lyon next month.
And so the next two games are so vital.
Should Saints win them both, they will book their place at the Champions Cup feast.
But if they stumble, they will open the door for Harlequins, who are just two points behind.
Saints will know they must keep their nerve in two games laced with danger.
Bath have been the league’s great underachievers this season, slipping from second to ninth during the course of a year.
Last season’s grand final runners-up have failed to realise their potential during this campaign and will be desperate to go out with a bang by claiming their first win at Franklin’s Gardens in 16 years.
And Gloucester will provide another gargantuan test at Kingsholm a week later.
The Cherry and Whites don’t lose at home too often and they have already stunned the likes of Wasps, Sale and Harlequins there this season.
Put simply, Saints, who are steadily getting men back from injury, will need a huge final push to ensure they don’t slip out of the top six.
Their squad is capable of so much more than simply clinging to a Champions Cup place, but early-season upsets and late-season injuries have hampered them.
Now they need to forget about all of that and get the two wins they need to preserve their place among Europe’s elite.
Tom’s prediction: Saints 30 Bath 18