Tom Vickers' Northampton Saints v Harlequins preview
Fixture: Northampton Saints v Harlequins (Aviva Premiership - round 22)
Date and kick-off time: Saturday, May 6, 2017, 4pm
Venue: Franklin’s Gardens, Northampton
Saints: Tuala; North, Tuitavake, Burrell, Foden; Mallinder, Groom; A Waller, Hartley, Brookes; Lawes, Ribbans; Gibson, Wood (c), Picamoles.
Replacements: Haywood, Ma’afu, Denman, Ratuniyarawa, Harrison, Dickson, Olver, Hutchinson.
Harlequins: Brown; Yarde, Marchant, Roberts, Visser; Evans, Dickson; Marler, Buchanan, Sinckler; Matthews, Horwill (c); Robshaw, Wallace, Luamanu.
Replacements: Gray, Lambert, Collier, Merrick, Ward, Mulchrone, Swiel, Alofa.
Outs: Saints: Stephen Myler (knee), Calum Clark (knee), JJ Hanrahan (shoulder)
Referee: JP Doyle
Most recent meeting: Saturday, October 8, 2016: Harlequins 20 Saints 9 (Aviva Premiership)
Tom’s preview: The beach, a set of play-off matches no one really wants or a season in the European doldrums.
Those are the possible paths for Saints when they take to the field at Franklin’s Gardens on Saturday.
Beat Harlequins by the necessary margin - more than seven points - and the door to the Champions Cup will open for a ninth successive season.
Lose, and Saints could even drop to ninth in the table, should both Gloucester, who host Exeter, and Newcastle, who go to Bristol, claim victory on the final day.
That would place Jim Mallinder’s men in the Challenge Cup for next season and although they would have some fun in that competition, it would not sate the appetite of supporters.
Those supporters want top-level European rugby at Franklin’s Gardens.
And so do the players and coaches.
The likes of Dylan Hartley, Courtney Lawes, Tom Wood, Louis Picamoles and George North, to name just a few members of a star-studded squad, belong among the elite.
And now the men who run out at the Gardens on Saturday will be charged with making it happen.
There is no doubt that the season has been a huge disappointment for many.
Saints did not progress from the pool stages in either the Champions Cup or the Anglo-Welsh Cup, and they have been a mixed bag in the Premiership.
While they have produced a few impressive performances, getting the results they feel they deserve has been a different matter.
They have been close to beating teams they have long perceived as their rivals, but on so many occasions they have fallen short.
And this weekend, they have one final chance to put it right.
The players, coaches and supporters will be desperate to put this campaign to bed.
They do not want it to drag on any longer than need be, so the possiblity of play-offs for a Champions Cup spot that come with finishing seventh will not exactly be appetising.
Saints can avoid that by winning by the necessary margin this weekend.
They managed to finish with a flourish last season, gliding to victory at Gloucester on the final day.
And how welcome a similar showing would be in front of their own fans this weekend.
They don’t have a right to expect victory against Harlequins, who will be buoyed by their big win against Wasps last week.
But they do have the right to expect a big performance, one that they can be proud of.
That is all you can ask and come 6pm, everyone of a green, black and gold persuasion will hope it’s enough to end the season in some sort of style.
If not, this disappointing year could drag on.
Or it could end in ignominy.
Saints certainly know which path they prefer. Now they have to take it.
Tom’s prediction: Saints 30 Harlequins 22