Date: Sunday 5th September
Kick off: 15:00
Venue: Franklins Gardens
Northampton: Saints played a fantastic brand of rugby last year and surprised many with their great attacking style; their Heineken Cup performances were particularly exceptional. But towards the end their momentum slowed, losing to Saracens at home in the semi-final will no doubt have been a psychological blow. How much they have learnt from three pre-season wins out of four against lower-league opposition remains to be seen, but there is no bigger test than to start against the reigning champions.
Leicester: The Champions left it to the last minute but Dan Hipkiss’ try in last year’s final against Saracens showed why the Tigers are true champions – they never know when they are beaten. Pre-season wins over Munster and Leinster should be a nice confidence boost, and going into the game they will look to continue their momentum.
What to expect:
The Midlands derby is one with a great legacy for classic matches and expect nothing different this time round. The atmosphere should be rippling with start-of-season excitement, and both sides will be fired up having been looking forward to the game throughout the long pre-season. Leicester have been hampered by injuries in the second row to Parling, Blaze and Deacon, so Saints ought to have the edge in the forwards – and possibly therefore in the match – but we’re expecting a close game with plenty of running rugby from both sides.
All eyes on:
New signings in the back rows for each team, Tom Wood (Saints) and Thomas Waldrom (Tigers), will be making their first Premiership starts for their new sides and will look to impress. Wood comes from Worcester with a growing reputation, whereas Waldrom’s move from the Crusaders came as a surprise given his excellent form and presence on the All Blacks radar.
Head to head: Chris Ashton v Alesana Tuilagi.
Ashton’s breakthrough season last year ended up with his first test try in the win against Australia down under, and he’ll look to kick on this year in the build up to the World Cup. The first player who he’ll be running into will be the ominous figure of Tuilagi, his power and strike rate is amongst the best in the league, and so these two top try scorers should provide some fireworks.
Last year’s result: 17 February 2010- Saints 19-3 Tigers.
Weather forecast: Little chance of rain, so with a dry surface expect both sides to play a lot with the ball in hand.
Prediction: Home advantage and a slight edge up front is likely to be the telling factor, but expect it to go right to the wire. Saints by 3.
By Ben Coles (@bennycoles)
Don’t forget to listen to Jim Mallinder and Geordan Murphy’s thoughts on the fixture in this week’s Podcast.