Fixture: Bath v Northampton Saints (Aviva Premiership - round 14)
Date and kick-off time: Friday, February 10, 7.45pm
Venue: The Recreation Ground, Bath
Bath: Homer; Rokoduguni, Clark, Tapuai, Wilson; Priestland, Fotuali’i; Catt, Dunn, Lahiff; Stooke, Ewels; Ellis, Louw, Grant. Replacements: Batty, Obano, Palma-Newport, Denton, Mercer, Cook, Hastings, Davies.
Saints: Tuala; K Pisi, Tuitavake, Mallinder, Foden (c); Myler, Groom; A Waller, Haywood, Brookes; Paterson, Day; Gibson, Harrison, Dickinson. Replacements: Clare, E Waller, Hill, Ratuniyarawa, Clark, Dickson, Hutchinson, Wilson.
Outs: Saints: Tom Stephenson (leg), JJ Hanrahan (hand), Luther Burrell (ankle), Jamie Elliott (ankle), Dylan Hartley, Courtney Lawes, Tom Wood, Louis Picamoles, George North (international duty)
Referee: Wayne Barnes
Most recent meeting: Saturday, September 3, 2016: Saints 14 Bath 18 (Aviva Premiership)
Tom’s preview: Following four weeks of matches that were tough to get excited about, Saints are now firmly ensconced in the business end of the season.
The return to Aviva Premiership actions comes at The Rec, where Jim Mallinder’s men face a mammoth match against Bath.
As Ben Foden said after last Friday’s Anglo-Welsh Cup win against Scarlets: it’s time to get serious.
Saints have the chance to make a real statement against a team who beat them at Franklin’s Gardens back in September.
On that occasion, Bath, under the fresh management of Todd Blackadder, were more streetwise, taking their chances when they came and punishing Saints’ profligacy.
It was a damp squib sort of start to the campaign, and exactly the kind of beginning Mallinder’s men didn’t want after a tough time of it last season.
But after a sluggish start, they have slowly rebuilt.
And Saints are now on a three-match winning streak in the league, thanks to home successes against Sale and Bristol, which sandwiched a gritty win at Gloucester.
In fact, Saints are now just five points behind fourth-placed Bath in the standings.
And a win this week would show Mallinder’s men mean business in the pursuit of a top-four spot.
If they lose, they will have to scale a small mountain to make the play-offs.
And pressure would pile on their games at Newcastle and Sale, which have a home clash with Worcester Warriors wedged in between.
It is a pivotal four-week block before the two-week break ahead of the March 25 date with Leicester Tigers.
And if Saints could scrap their way to three or four wins, they would be sitting pretty come derby day.
But there is no doubt that their task is a tough one.
Bath and Newcastle are rarely beaten at home these days, while Saints never enjoy trips to Sale.
Each of those games come without the likes of Louis Picamoles and George North.
So it promises to be real backs-to-the-wall stuff.
Occasions when a siege mentality is a must.
But if Saints can continue to show the fight that earned them those three successive league wins during the transition from 2016 to 2017, you just never know.
Tom’s prediction: Bath 18 Saints 10