Tom Vickers’ Northampton Saints v London Irish preview

LONDON IRISH DEBUT - Australia star James O'Connor lines up at full-back against Saints
LONDON IRISH DEBUT - Australia star James O'Connor lines up at full-back against Saints

Saints may have weathered the early-season storm, but they know a tempest lies in wait at the Madejski Stadium on Sunday.

London Irish, buoyed by this week’s arrival of Australia star James O’Connor, have the scent of blood in their nostrils.

They have lost just once at home during 2013 - to Exeter - and will use the memory of what they did to Saints last October as a spur.

On that occasion, Northampton, who had won on their previous three visits to Reading, were, in Jim Mallinder’s words, embarrassed.

They were all at sea from the off with Vasily Artemyev having a torrid time at full-back, getting little protection from the men in front of him.

It was an evisceration and could easily have been a more comprehensive margin than the 39-17 it ended up being as tries from Phil Dowson and Ken Pisi gave Saints a semblance of credit they didn’t deserve.

Irish were deserved winners and they will hope that can be said after this weekend’s clash.

Teams in the lower reaches of the league love this time of year.

The playing field is levelled by international call-ups.

Saints will have several key men missing, whereas Irish can only point to the loss of speedy wide man Marland Yarde.

But Mallinder is refusing to get any excuses in early, instead feeling his men are more than capable of coping.

And, based on last weekend’s sensational six-try demolition of Saracens, he’s right.

His worry is more about complacency, having admitted after last season’s game at Irish that his men hadn’t been ‘mentally right’.

Precautions have been taken to avoid a repeat this year, with daily reminders given to the players since the Saracens win.

They know they cannot afford to get swept away in another Irish tornado this weekend.