Venue: Franklin’s Gardens
Referee: Dave Pearson
A stuttering season for Northampton on all fronts appears to be gaining momentum with three rounds left in the Aviva Premiership. Watching the Heineken Cup action last weekend must have stung for last year’s finalists, but with Europe no longer in the picture Saints have been able to focus firmly on winning that elusive Premiership title, avoiding last year’s problems of putting out the same outstanding first XV in two competitions. Having only lost at home once all season in the Aviva Premiership (back in September against London Irish), Saints will need Franklin’s Gardens to be a fortress once more.
The Tigers victory in the LV=Cup final gives them a psychological edge over their Midlands rivals, adding another win to take make it four consecutive victories over Northampton. That being said, Leicester haven’t been successful at Franklin’s Gardens since 2006. With four try bonus points in their last four games, once again the Tigers are timing their run for the playoffs to perfection. Ben Youngs, George Skivington and Geoff Parling all return.
What to Expect:
Safe to say there is some bad blood hanging over this fixture after the incident between Calum Clark and Rob Hawkins the last time these two sides met. Two of the best sets of forwards around, Saints are weakened with Dylan Hartley suspended and Brett Sharman injured, putting the pressure on Andy Long. Soane Tonga’huia against Dan Cole is worth the admission fee alone.
All Eyes On: George Pisi & Tom Croft
One of the Premiership players of the season, Pisi has enjoyed an excellent first stint in England, with over 20 appearances and three tries since linking up after the Rugby World Cup with Samoa. The number of line breaks and assists far outweigh his number of tries, but he has been a powerful force in the Saints midfield, welcomed by the home fans with open arms.
Meanwhile something about this match just seems set for Tom Croft to leave a big impression. Up against a back row featuring the youthful James Craig, Phil Dowson and Roger Wilson. If he can get on top in the lineout against Samu Manoa and Christian Day, Leicester will enjoy the lion’s share of possession.
Head to Head: Lee Dickson & Ben Youngs
The rise over the last 12 months of Lee Dickson has been met with great pride from all Saints fans, who have seen the scrum-half finally reach international level after two seasons of good form. The speed of his pass and decision-making impressed during the Six Nations, moving up the pecking order ahead of Ben Youngs. The Leicester scrum-half is in a rut and after returning from his soft ban for striking Jamie Gibson, has it all to prove if he is to regain the number 9 shirt this summer in South Africa.
Games between these two are never dull affairs. 2nd spot in the Premiership table and a home semi-final is a possibility for both sides if Saracens slip up away to London Irish. Home form to dictate against the seemingly irrepressible Tigers. Northampton by 3.
by Ben Coles