Aviva Premiership Semi-Final Preview: Northampton v Leicester


The Aviva Premiership semi-finals kick-off on Friday night with a re-run of last year’s grand finale, which ended up being another compelling instalment in what is one of the Premiership’s fiercest rivalries. Both of this season’s East Midlands derbies have yielded intriguing results, with the Saints bagging a respectable draw at Welford Road early in the season before the Tigers roared back into form with a hard-fought, if slightly controversial, win at Franklin’s Gardens. Northampton now haven’t won this fixture since 2010, a stat that is not necessarily important but does illustrate how the Tigers have held sway over their neighbours in recent times. Come kick-off tomorrow night, however, it is unlikely to matter.

Northampton Saints

The Saints enjoy the luxury of having pretty much a full deck to play with. Hooker Dylan Hartley is the only injury-enforced absentee; Mike Heywood deputises. He’ll be throwing in to the hulking second row partnership of Courtney Lawes and Samu Manoa – a more powerful unit in the Premiership there is not.

Phil Dowson captains the team alongside Tom Wood and Sam Dickinson in the back-row, while Kahn Fotuali’i is preferred to Lee Dickson at half back. Crucially, Stephen Myler plays at 10 – he has been in sublime form in recent weeks, and missed the Tigers’ visit to the Gardens earlier in the season.

Luther Burrell and George Pisi continue in the midfield, forming a centre partnership that has built an excellent understanding this season to go along with its obvious power. In the back three there is an abundance of finishing potential, as giant Welshman George North links up with Ken Pisi and Ben Foden.

Leicester Tigers

The Tigers are not so lucky. Midfield linchpin Anthony Allen has not recovered in time to make the squad, so Dan Bowden, who performed so well early in the season, comes into the midfield to partner Manu Tuilagi, who needs a big game. Toby Flood is preferred at fly-half to Owen Williams, who is on the bench, but given the young Welshman’s form you have to assume that decision has something to do with his limping off injured last weekend – perhaps he too has not trained this week.

Up front, however, a powerful pack is reunited. Marcos Ayerza, Tom Youngs and Logovi’i Mulipola form what must be one of the best ball-carrying front rows around, while Louis Deacon’s love of the grunt work will allow partner Ed Slater to get his hands on plenty of ball. Geoff Parling will be missed after coming back into some good form since returning from injury – he is ruled out due to concussion protocols, as are Blaine Scully, Rob Hawkins and Boris Stankovich.

In the back-row the Tigers’ dependable trio of Jamie Gibson, Julian Salvi and Jordan Crane are reunited, while out wide one of the players of the season, Vereniki Goneva, will have to be marked tightly if his box of tricks are to be kept under wraps. He joins up with Niall Morris and Mat Tait in the back three.

Head to head: George Pisi vs Manu Tuilagi

There are a host of intriguing match-ups across the park – Slater v Lawes in the second row will be huge, while Myler v Flood will probably dictate the outcome of the game – but Pisi against Tuilagi is pure box office. Tuilagi has shown since coming back from injury that he has really developed the offloading side to his game, making him so much more than a one-dimensional weapon. Of course, Pisi is one of the most accomplished offloaders in the Premiership, and is one of the best at making breaks and bringing his wingers into the game. Both of these men are capable of moments of magic – it may well take one of them to separate the sides come the final whistle.


I’ve been going back and forth on this one all week. Both sides have compelling reasons to win – the Tigers have the edge psychologically with recent results between them, and have timed their run to form typically well, but the Saints will have the backing of their vociferous home support, and come into the game on the back of an annihilation of Wasps last weekend. It will likely come down to a slip here, or a missed tackle there. Looking at the teamsheets today has swung it in the favour of the hosts – the loss of Anthony Allen is the biggest blow of all, and makes Saints marginal favourites to my mind. Saints by 3.

By Jamie Hosie
Follow Jamie on Twitter: @jhosie43

Photo by: Patrick Khachfe / Onside Images

10 thoughts on “Aviva Premiership Semi-Final Preview: Northampton v Leicester

  1. I was thinking Leicester by 3 before the team announcements. Now I find myself agreeing with this prediction.

    The loss of Antony Allen, and Owen Williams, is huge for Leicester.

    Dylan Hartley will be a very big loss for Saints though. When they won away at the Allianz this time last year, Hartley was phenomenal.

    Ok now I’m thinking Leicester again.

    Basically, this is too close to call. Will be an epic encounter.

  2. As a Sarries fan I would much rather we played Leicester in the final than the Saints, so I will find myself (reluctantly) cheering for the Tigers tomorrow night.

    It should be a great game though.

  3. Almost to close to call… I am a Leicester fan but I feel Saints may edge this. Agree Allen is a massive loss, and whilst I am a big Bowden fan (thought he was brilliant at the start of the year) he hasn’t really played with Tuilagi- this is not the time to have a new look centre partnership.

    Also I wish we had Parling in the 2nds. Deacon has always been a good player, but to combat a mighty special partnership of Lawes and Manoa, I think Parling would have made a crucial difference.

    Interesting they have stuck with Gibson/Mafi as the 6 and bench option, rather than bringing Croft back in. Only fair, but you can’t help think that missing Allen, Parling and Cole someone of Crofts experience could be crucial.

  4. I’m convinced Saints win comfortably. I think the last few years have taken their toll on the Saints, but have learnt massively from them.

    The most recent game against the Tigers will be a painful memory, but one they’ll want payback for. Saints had stuttered coming into the last weekend, then blasted Wasps away.

    If Saints don’t win this game, they’ll never win it.

  5. Who plays 7 for Saints. Is it Dowson or Wood?

    If Wood, I think the head to head between he and Jamie Gibson will be interesting.

  6. I’m going for Saints to shade it as well. Big fan of Fotuali’i, he seems to have found his feet over the last couple of months and is playing some great stuff and can see his additional play making spark being one of the small things that separates the teams.

    1. Agree about Fotuali’i. Thought he would be the signing of the season when it was announced last year. Think him and North both took a bit of time to settle in but they are both proving their worth towards the end of the season. Going to be a hell of a game tonight.

  7. This is really difficult to call, and I’m wondering who is refereeing this match?

    I’m expecting Tuilagi to be all over Myler, and Salvi to be all over Fotuali’i. Pressure on Saints half backs could be the key to winning the game. Myler is not the most physical fly half, and having Tuilagi baring down on him could be enough to give him the wobbles.

    As a Sarries fan I’m really not sure who I’d rather face in the final (if we get there). Saints have shown good form for most of the season, whilst Tigers have timed their run of form to perfection (as usual), and have overcome some serious injury headaches over the season to get here. Tigers have the pedigree to win it if they get to the final, but Saints are still smarting from last season’s final, and will look to put that behind them should they get there. It all makes for a fascinating semi final, and I expect there will be some fireworks!!

  8. Agree with the above that Allen will be the biggest loss and possibly the key to the game.

    Burrell and Pisi will be looking forward to playing a centre partnership that hasn’t had much time together

    Given Leicester came close to being beaten by a Sarries B side with 14 men, i just think Northampton will have too much for them and could win at a canter

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