Tom Vickers’ Ospreys v Northampton Saints preview

WELCOME RETURN - Samu Manoa is back in the Saints starting line-up for the match at Ospreys
WELCOME RETURN - Samu Manoa is back in the Saints starting line-up for the match at Ospreys

Fixture: Ospreys v Northampton Saints (Champions Cup Pool 5 - match five)

Date/kick-off time: Sunday, January 18, 5.30pm

Venue: Liberty Stadium

Weather forecast: 4C, clear

Referee: Jerome Garces

Ospreys: Evans; Natoga, Beck, Matavesi, Walker; Biggar, Webb; Thomas, Baldwin, Jarvis; Bernardo, Wyn-Jones (c); King, Tipuric, Ardron.

Replacements: Parry, Thomas, Arhip, Allen, Lewis, Roberts, Davies, Dirksen.

Saints: Foden; K Pisi, G Pisi, Burrell, North; Myler, Dickson; A Waller, Hartley (c), Denman; Dickinson, Day; Clark, Wood, Manoa.

Replacements: Haywood, E Waller, Corbisiero, Dowson, Harrison, Hodgson, Wilson, Elliott.

Outs: Ospreys: Baker (shoulder), Bearman, Bevington (both groin), Bishop (neck), Hassler Peers (both ligaments), Jones, Spratt (both knee), Smith (pectoral muscle), Steenkamp (Achilles). Saints: Fisher (foot), Lawes (ankle), Fotuali’i (shoulder), Ma’afu (banned - week one of one).

Most recent meeting: Saturday, October 25, 2014: Saints 34 Ospreys 6 (Champions Cup)

Tom’s preview: From Paris and Venice (well, nearly) to a Sunday evening in Swansea - Saints’ Pool 5 journey is meandering towards its conclusion.

And though this week’s surroundings may not be as picturesque as on their past two away days, Jim Mallinder’s men know that this weekend’s game in Wales is just as important.

Win, and they could make the quarter-finals, should other results go their way.

Lose, and the pressure will pile on next Saturday’s showdown with Racing Metro at Franklin’s Gardens.

Barring the biggest of upsets, the Top 14 giants will dispose of Treviso in pretty ruthless fashion in France this weekend.

That means Saints must win to at least be level with Racing going into the crunch clash at the Gardens.

And Mallinder’s men won’t just want to finish top.

They will want a home quarter-final, even if it is played at stadium:mk.

The last time Saints secured progression to the last eight, they went all the way to the final, losing their unbeaten record and a 22-6 half-time lead to Leinster at the Millennium Stadium.

Since then, the Cardiff curse has hung over the club, with a quarter-final place proving as elusive as a rambunctious George North run.

But, with Treviso trounced twice in December, Saints are now in pole position to progress.

And they will be desperate not to lose their lead at the Liberty Stadium.

Racing were only able to earn a draw from their fixture at the same ground.

And if Saints can better that, they will deservedly top the standings going into the final weekend of pool action.

Then, the pressure will be on Racing to pull a result out of the hat.

And we all know French sides can be a bit flaky on their travels.

So though there may be little sight-seeing for the hardy few who travel to Wales this weekend, there will be a mouthwatering match in prospect.

And how Saints would love to reward their travelling support with what would be a vital victory.

Tom’s prediction: Ospreys 20 Saints 25