Date: Saturday 6 October 2018
Venue: Twickenham Stadium
Kick-off: 15:00pm BST
Of course, we all remember the shocking tragedy of Rob Horne’s life-changing injury to his arm in April 2018 where in the Welford Road incarnation of the Derby, a perfectly legal tackle from Sione Kalamafoni in the opening seconds of the game meant that Rob unfortunately suffered severe nerve damage to his arm which means he has full paralysis of his right arm and had to retire immediately from the sport. To show the upmost respect to their 2017/18 Player of the Season, Northampton have moved their home fixture from Franklin’s Gardens to Twickenham in order to raise funds for the 34 capped Wallaby. Fair play to both Northampton and Leicester to support a very decent bloke and a talented rugby individual who’s service to rugby was cut prematurely short.
This means the emotion going into this game has been ramped up in an affair which already has the East Midlands bragging rights up for grabs. In one of the fiercest and if not famous derby’s in Europe, form goes out of the window but I’ll still look into it anyway.
The Saints have only won two games but were unlucky to not win a third, or at least get a losing bonus point, against Saracens. We’re seeing a slow but steady progress under new head coach Chris Boyd. There seems to be a new culture developing too which is enabling the Saints side to play how they want to play. Their forward pack looks like the dominating force it once was back in the 2014 heydays and the backline looks really sharp with a balance directness in terms of big winger Taquele Naiyaravoro (who is returning to Twickenham after playing a stormer there in 2016 for the Barbarians), Welsh flyhalf Dan Biggar and Luther Burrell as well as the speed and skillset of Tom Collins, Piers Francis and well with Ahsee Tuala it’s a bit of both.
New forward coach and former player Phil Dowson has given the Saints pack a new lease of life with their setpiece improving considerably since last season and Matt Ferguson has tidied up the scrum which Dorian West left in a right old state. It’s pleasing to see England captain Dylan Hartley playing very well on his return and he’s high in the charts for lineouts won. Actually there have been few additions to the Saints pack but the experierence of seasoned internationals in England’s James Haskell and former All-Black Ben Franks will have significantly helped matters and it’s good to see young tighthead Ehren Painter getting his chance, a supremely talented scrummager, he was a breakthrough for the England U20s in the summer and I look forward to seeing his progression.
Northampton will have been very pleased with a five-point win over what is and what should be a very tough hunting ground for Premiership clubs this season, their only downer I suppose would be the fact that they conceded 40 points. Fitting then that they’re up against their fiercest rivals who have well-publicised defence issues of their own.
Controlling the emotion and adrenaline will be key for Northampton, their defence has got to be on top as the Tigers have scored four tries or more in 3 of the 5 rounds and they have got to have the self-belief and desire as well as fitness to oust a Tigers side very much looking for revenge on last season’s double defeat. It’ll be a close game, I’m certain of it.
Head coach Chris Boyd, in his first coaching appearance to one of the great havens of rugby, has given capped Wallaby Andrew Kellaway his first Premiership start and Harry Mallinder starts at fullback with Ahsee Tuala moving to right wing. Here is the side facing Leicester on Saturday:
15. Mallinder, 14.Tuala, 13. Kellaway, 12. Burrell, 11. Naiyaravoro, 10. Biggar, 9. Reinach, 1. Waller (Co-Captain), 2. Hartley (Co-Captain), 3. Painter, 4. Ribbans, 5. Lawes, 6. Gibson, 7. Ludlam, 8. Harrison
16. Haywood, 17. van Wyk, 18. Franks, 19. Ratuniyarawa, 20. Eadie, 21. Mitchell, 22. Dingwall & 23. Collins
Despite the fact that their win over Sale Sharks was one of the most boring Premiership matches in recent memory, the Tigers will be relieved with a win after two close defeats in Rounds 3 & 4. For the first time in a while Tigers have a fully-functioning and competive backrow and George Ford is in perhaps the best form of his career, not only scoring and setting up tries but being really high in the kicking percentages (something which people have criticised him for in the past) and against Sale he achieved one of his longest kicks of his career (51 metres I believe) in a penalty.
Are Tigers in a crisis? I still maintain that for 3 coaches to be sacked in the last two seasons that inherently suggests a problem with Leicester’s board. Whilst I believe that Welford Road’s hotel project doesn’t affect the player cap, it may affect other areas of funding such as coaching and academy. To tell the truth, the vast majority of vans are fed up with board.
Whilst the reasoning for O’Connor’s sacking seem sound, the timing of it has severely affected performances on the pitch. Matt O’Connor had a very authoritarian approach to coaching and more or less tried to control all coaches and aspects of Tiger’s plan. Because of this, Brett Deacon has to reimplement his defensive ideas and drills into the team now. This means that the Tigers players aren’t used to the new defensive system and are making individual errors. This will fix over time and patience will be required from Tigers fans.
In order to win on Saturday, Tigers need to not only match Saints emotion and adrenaline and desire but exceed it. That’s not as hard as it would seem as the Tigers camp are still reeling from the unthinkable and unacceptable. Tactics wise they need to take the wind out of Saints’ sails straight away, be the physical opponents, dominate the scrum and setpiece and on a Derby day be the team with the better discipline because in days gone by that was usually the winning factor.
Head coach Geordan Murphy has made a couple of changes to Leicester’s matchday squad from last week, with a welcome return to the matchday squad for England centre Manu Tuilagi, Jonah Holmes is given a run at fullback and lock-forward Harry Wells comes into the starting team with Graham Kitchener absent through injury. Here is the side taking on their biggest rivals:
15. Holmes, 14. Thompstone, 13. Tuilagi, 12. Eastmond, 11. May, 10. Ford, 9. B. Youngs, 1. Bateman, 2. T.Youngs (captain), 3. Cole, 4. Williams, 5. Wells, 6. Denton, 7. Thompson & 8. Kalamafoni
16. McMillan, 17. Fe’ao, 18. Heyes, 19. Lewis, 20. Mapapalangi, 21. Harrison, 22. Hardwick & 23. Olowofela
All Eyes On
For the Tigers, it’s Guy Thompson. He’s quickly becoming a fan-favourite at Welford Road and has made considerable yardage this season and made 4 turnovers last weekend. Battling against the likes of Gibson and Harrison will be a tough outing for the Tigers No7, if he and other Tigers players turn the ball over and deny Saints possession then the game is very much on for the “away” side.
For Saints, my player to watch is young prospect Tighthead prop Ehren Painter. For such a young man he is an extremely powerful scrummager who burst onto the scene when he came on as a replacement in the last Derby and shunted Tigers off their own ball. The jury are still out on legality of that scrum turnover but he is definitely one for the future and along with the Leicester replacement prop (and England U20s teammate) Joe Heyes could be England internationals one day, and on one of the world’s biggest stages with Head coach Eddie Jones attending, it’s an incredibly big opportunity for the youngster.
Head to head
Setpiece will be crucial for both sides, therefore I focused on the forwards for this Head to head. Lineout throwing will be essential for possession, hence the match will rely on the two hookers and captains, Tom Youngs (Leicester) and Dylan Hartley and how many lineouts they win. The scrum will also be of imperative importance, the battle between Tigers props Greg Bateman and Dan Cole and Saints props Alex Waller and the aforementioned Ehren Painter could be the difference by gaining the winning penalty. This potential match-winning penalty needs to be converted thus the flyhalf head-to-head betweeen George Ford and Dan Biggar is also crucial.
Even though Tigers ought to be seeking revenge for losing home and away last season, I just get the sense that Northampton will be undoubtedly gunning for the victory just that bit more as they really want to give something back to Rob Horne on Saturday. Not sure if Hutch or Henry will agree with me but even as a confessed Tigers fan, I can’t see Leicester winning this one but it’ll be a close encounter nonetheless.
Northampton Saints by 6
What do you think?