Tom Vickers’ Northampton Saints v London Irish preview

Saints celebrated a superb last-gasp win at Harlequins last Saturday (picture: Kirsty Edmonds)
Saints celebrated a superb last-gasp win at Harlequins last Saturday (picture: Kirsty Edmonds)
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Fixture: Northampton Saints v London Irish (Aviva Premiership - round 12)

Date/kick-off time: Saturday, February 13, 3pm

Weather forecast: 4C, light rain

Referee: Tim Wigglesworth

Saints: Foden; Elliott, Burrell, Mallinder, Wilson; Myler, Dickson; A Waller, Haywood, Brookes; Craig, Day; Gibson, Wood, Dickinson.

Replacements: Marshall, E Waller, Denman, Matfield, Harrison, Kessell, Hanrahan, G Pisi.

London Irish: Fenby; Ojo, Mulchrone, Williams, Hearn; Geraghty, Steele; Court, Paice, Aulika; Symons, Lloyd; Sinclair, Narraway, McCusker.

Replacements: Ellis, Smallbone, Halavatau, Nagle, Treviranus, Allinson, Brophy-Clews, Waldouck.

Outs: Saints: Clark (shoulder), Fotuali’i (hamstring), K Pisi (shoulder), Hartley, Hill, Lawes, North (international duty).

Most recent meeting: Saturday, December 26: London Irish 25 Saints 23 (Aviva Premiership)

Tom’s preview: George Pisi calls them speed bumps, others know them as setbacks, but whatever you label them, Saints can’t afford many more dips this season.

As the players and coaches have acknowledged, too often during this campaign it has taken a defeat to spark Jim Mallinder’s men into life.

After losing at Worcester Warriors on the opening night, they recovered to smash Newcastle Falcons at stadium:mk on the following weekend.

When they lost back-to-back games, against Sale and Saracens, they recovered to win two in a row, against Scarlets and Glasgow Warriors.

After their were humbled at Racing 92 in December, they showed great character to claim a draw against the star-studded French side at Franklin’s Gardens on the following weekend.

Following the agonising defeat at London Irish on Boxing Day, they bounced back with a gritty 8-3 victory against high-flying Exeter Chiefs on the opening day of 2016.

After losing at Leicester Tigers, they recovered to claim a last-gasp win against Glasgow and a bonus-point success at Scarlets, edging into the Champions Cup quarter-finals.

And following the chastening defeat to Wasps at the Gardens a couple of weeks ago, they rolled up their sleeves and secured a stylish late victory at The Stoop last weekend.

So, you get the picture.

Their form has been more undulating than a rollercoaster ride.

But now it’s time for the Aviva Premiership theme park to become far less topsy-turvy.

Saints must now reach a consistent standard of excellence if they are to mount a serious bid for a top-four spot.

They need to regain the habit of winning week in, week out, rather than needing a defeat to inspire a good performance.

Last season, Saints finished top of the Aviva Premiership pile.

They were the most consistent team in the league and whether they played well and won or played badly and won, they usually won.

They should expect to put a run together now.

With games against the league’s bottom three sides - London Irish, Newcastle and Worcester - to come in the next three weeks, they should be consistent.

None of those teams will go down without a fight.

And the fact they are all scrapping for their lives will make them tricky opposition.

But as they have shown in patches - and particularly in last weekend’s win at Harlequins - Saints have the quality to overcome the league’s title chasers.

So they should have more than enough to outgun the league’s strugglers.

Now is the time for Saints to put their foot firmly on the accelerator.

And they need to dodge those speed bumps if they are to avoid breaking down on the way to the Premiership play-offs.

Tom’s prediction: Saints 28 London Irish 9