Worcester Warriors v Northampton Saints: Tom Vickers' big match preview

Dylan Hartley returns to co-captain Saints at Worcester (picture: Kirsty Edmonds)
Dylan Hartley returns to co-captain Saints at Worcester (picture: Kirsty Edmonds)

Fixture: Worcester Warriors v Northampton Saints

Competition: Gallagher Premiership (round 10)

Venue: Sixways Stadium, Worcester

Date and kick-off time: Friday, December 21, 2018, 7.45pm

Television coverage: BT Sport 1

Referee: Wayne Barnes

Worcester Warriors: Pennell; Heem, Venter, Mills, Adams; Weir, Hougaard; Black, Singleton, Schonert; Bresler, Fatialofa; Mama, Lewis, van Velze (c).

Replacements: Taufete'e, Waller, Milasinovich, Phillips, Hill, Arr, Lawrence, van Breda.

Saints: Tuala; Collins, Burrell, Francis, Naiyaravoro; Biggar, Reinach; Waller (cc), Hartley (cc), Hill; Ribbans, Lawes; Wood, Ludlam, Harrison.

Replacements: Fish, van Wyk, Franks, Ratuniyarawa, Gibson, Brüssow, Mitchell, Dingwall.

Outs: Saints: Ken Pisi (shoulder), Nafi Tuitavake (neck), Andy Symons (knee), Harry Mallinder (knee), James Haskell (ankle), James Craig (concussion), Tom Emery (shoulder), Mikey Haywood (knee), Andrew Kellaway (ankle).

Most recent meeting: Saturday, May 5, 2018: Saints 32 Worcester 24 (Premiership)

Tom's preview: It is always said that to avoid the dreaded trap door of relegation, picking up wins against the sides around you is crucial.

Saints have failed to do that during their past two Premiership games, going down to disappointing defeats against Sale Sharks and Newcastle Falcons.

Both teams were bottom of the table when they beat the black, green and gold, who have now slipped to 10th in the standings.

And this Friday, they travel to Sixways to face a Worcester outfit who are only above them thanks to points difference.

So, as Luther Burrell said this week - it is time for Saints to be a team of doers as they aim to end a frustrating league spell by claiming a crucial success.

Because if Burrell and Co don't achieve their aims, they will go into Christmas lacking any real cheer.

And there will be a growing trepidation as the New Year approaches, with a home game against Exeter Chiefs providing the daunting conclusion to 2018.

Saints start 2019 with a trip to Wasps, so things certainly don't get any easier.

And how they could do with a shot in the arm at Sixways on Friday night.

This match has been top of the agenda since the defeat to Newcastle, with the recent Challenge Cup weeks proving merely a minor distraction.

Saints have made no secret that the game at Worcester is far more important than any cup action could be.

And they took the sensible decision to leave out most of their key men for last weekend's trip to Romania.

That snow-hit visit to Timisoara should have done little to affect preparation.

And those who weren't on the trip, which seemed to last an eternity after lengthy delays on Saturday evening, will only have a warm feeling of gratitude when they head to Worcester.

Attack coach Sam Vesty says there has been a real appetite for training at the Gardens this week, and Saints must now take that desire on to the Sixways pitch.

There is almost nothing between Worcester and Saints in the league standings, and Friday's outcome will be about who shows the most desire and composure under pressure.

Chris Boyd's side certainly have the skill to prevail, with their starting 15 full of experience and class.

They will look for the likes of Dylan Hartley, Courtney Lawes and Dan Biggar, who all return to the team, to lead them over the line against a tricky Worcester team.

In big games, you need your big names. And Saints have plenty of them.

But now it is time to translate teamsheet ability into Premiership points.

And if they can do that on Friday night, it will be a very merry Christmas for Boyd's men.

Tom's prediction: Worcester 20 Saints 21