Tom Vickers' Northampton Saints versus Leinster preview
Fixture: Northampton Saints v Leinster (Champions Cup Pool 4 - match three)
Date and kick-off time: Friday, December 9, 2016, 7.45pm
Venue: Franklin’s Gardens
Saints: Foden; K Pisi, Burrell, Hanrahan, Elliott; Myler, Groom; A Waller, Haywood, Hill; Paterson, Lawes; Gibson, Wood (c), Picamoles. Replacements: Hartley, E Waller, Denman, Ratuniyarawa, Harrison, Kessell, G Pisi, Tuala.
Leinster: R Kearney; A Byrne, Ringrose, Henshaw, Nacewa (c); Carbery, L McGrath; J McGrath, Cronin, Furlong; Toner, Triggs; O’Brien, van der Flier, Heaslip. Replacements: Tracy, Healy, Bent, Ruddock, Conan, Gibson-Park, R Byrne, O’Loughlin
Outs: Saints: Tom Stephenson (broken leg), Lee Dickson (rib), Sam Dickinson (knee), Calum Clark (suspended - week three of three), Kieran Brookes (suspended - week two of two), George North (neck), Christian Day (concussion), Harry Mallinder (ankle)
Referee: Jerome Garces (France)
Most recent meeting: Saturday, December 14: Leinster 9 Saints 18 (Champions Cup pool stages)
Tom’s preview: Turning points are talked about a lot in sport.
Teams always seem to be desperate to kick-start their season.
To shift the momentum in their favour.
And to get the road signs pointing towards the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.
For Saints, all of the above would be hugely welcome.
And they will know just what a win this Friday night would do for them.
It would provide some welcome relief for supporters who have suffered at Franklin’s Gardens so far this season.
There hasn’t been much flowing rugby on show and the wins have been in short supply.
Now Saints need to turn the tap on, to get things moving again.
Ben Foden talked openly after last Saturday’s defeat at Leicester Tigers, summing up why he felt his side had misfired this season.
He was adamant that a lack of belief rather than a lack of quality was to blame.
Whatever the issue, Saints have scored just 14 tries in the Aviva Premiership this season.
That is the fewest in the league, with even bottom side Bristol having scored 16, two more than Jim Mallinder’s men.
The statistics certainly don’t make for pretty reading for the back line.
Because while the forwards are impressing in the charts, the men charged with creating chances and taking them have failed to achieve their aims as yet.
But if they can turn all of that around against Leinster this week, it can be the platform for progression.
Back in 2013, when Leinster last visited the Gardens, Saints had been playing with a swagger.
And although they were hammered 40-7, they went to Dublin and won on the following wekend.
That was the catalyst for a run of 13 matches unbeaten, with Saints eventually winning the Aviva Premiership and Amlin Challenge Cup.
To say that should they win this week they can achieve the same would certainly be pushing it.
But there is no doubting the importance of the next two weeks.
Saints can either keep their Champions Cup flame burning or see it extinguished.
At this crossroads in a difficult campaign, they simply have to take the right turn at the Gardens on Friday night.
Tom’s prediction: Saints 16 Leinster 14