Clermont Auvergne v Northampton Saints: Tom Vickers' match preview

The Saints supporters will expect a response from their side in France on Saturday (picture: Kirsty Edmonds)
The Saints supporters will expect a response from their side in France on Saturday (picture: Kirsty Edmonds)

Fixture: Clermont Auvergne v Northampton Saints

Competition: Champions Cup Pool 2 - match two

Venue: Stade Marcel Michelin, Clermont-Ferrand

Date: Saturday, October 21, 2017

Kick-off time: 3.15pm (BST)

Television coverage: BT Sport 2

Clermont Auvergne: Toeva; Strettle, Penaud, Lamerat, Raka; Lopez, Parra; Chaume, Kayser, Slimani; van der Merwe, Timani; Cancoriet, Lee, Lapandry.

Replacements: Uluigia, Falgoux, Jarvis, Jedrasiak, Gerondeau, Cassang, Betham, Abendanon

Saints: Mallinder; Foden, Tuitavake, Burrell, Collins; Francis, Groom; Waller, Hartley (c), Ford-Robinson; Ratuniyarawa, Day; Lawes, Wood, Harrison.

Replacements: Haywood, van Wyk, Brookes, Paterson, Gibson, Reinach, Stephenson, Pisi.

Outs: Saints: Mitch Eadie (ankle), Rob Horne (ankle), George North (knee)

Referee: Ben Whitehouse (Wales)

Most recent meeting: Saturday, April 4, 2015: Clermont Auvergne 35 Saints 7 (Champions Cup quarter-final)

Tom's preview: "The biggest challenge of them all."

That is how Saints defence coach Mark Hopley described this weekend's trip to Stade Marcel Michelin.

And it's tough to argue.

Clermont's citadel is one of the toughest to conquer, as Saints found out back in April 2015, when their Champions Cup hopes went up in smoke.

That quarter-final concluded in a 37-5 success for the Frenchmen, who were rampant on a day when they made Saints look like boys.

The noise echoed around the four sides of what has to be the most atmospheric rugby ground in Europe.

And Saints were deafened by the roar.

They will not look back on that encounter before the renewal of rivalries this week.

Instead, they have been busy focusing on how they can improve after last Sunday's demolition at the hands of Saracens.

That 57-13 defeat was the heaviest home reverse in Northampton history.

And now Saints have to respond.

But if they have been known for one thing in the Champions Cup (and the Heineken Cup before it) in recent years, it is for producing reactions.

No, they didn't manage it against Leinster last season, with the Dublin defeat even worse than the one they suffered in Northampton on the previous weekend.

But in the years before, Jim Mallinder's men turned up at tough venues and ripped up the pre-match predictions with glee.

In December 2012, Ulster got caught resting on their laurels as they lost 10-9 to Saints in Belfast, just a week after winning 25-6 in Northampton.

Two years later, it was Leinster who felt the full force of Saints as they saw their 40-7 success at Franklin's Gardens overturned in a shock 18-9 defeat in Dublin.

And though they didn't beat Racing a year later, the 9-9 draw at the Gardens was enough to restore pride after a porous showing in a 33-3 defeat in Paris on the previous weekend.

So could this be the latest in a line of memorable European encounters for Saints?

Or will it be another sobering afternoon in France, where Saints have lost on each of their past eight visits.

Trips across the Channel have so rarely seen Saints return with a smile.

The last time they won in France was during the season they reached the Heineken Cup final in 2011.

On that occasion, Castres were defeated as Jim Mallinder's men progressed through the pool stages unscathed.

They can't enjoy a similar blemish-free record this time round, but they still have plenty of time to put things right.

And producing a special performance at a special stadium this Saturday would certainly do that.

Tom's prediction: Clermont Auvergne 28 Saints 17