Tom Vickers’ Treviso versus Northampton Saints preview

HE'S BACK - Ken Pisi has returned to the starting line-up for the trip to Treviso
HE'S BACK - Ken Pisi has returned to the starting line-up for the trip to Treviso

Fixture: Treviso v Northampton Saints (Champions Cup - match three)

Date/kick-off time: Saturday, December 6, 2pm (CET)

Venue: Stadio Comunale di Monigo

Weather forecast: Partly cloudy, 12C

Treviso: Jayden Hayward; Simone Ragusi, Michele Campagnaro, Sam Christie, Ludovico Nitoglia; Joe Carlisle, Alberto Lucchese; Matteo Muccignat, Davide Giazzon, Salesi Manu, Francesco Minto, Antonio Pavanello, Simone Favaro, Alessandro Zanni, Dean Budd

Replacements: Amar Kudin, Matteo Zanusso, Romulo Acosta, Marco Fuser, Tomas Vallejos, Marco Barbini, Luca Morisi, Edoardo Gori

Saints: Ben Foden; Ken Pisi, Tom Stephenson, Luther Burrell, Jamie Elliott; Stephen Myler, Lee Dickson; Alex Waller, Mike Haywood, Salesi Ma’afu, Sam Dickinson, Christian Day, Calum Clark, Phil Dowson, Samu Manoa.

Replacements: Dylan Hartley, Ethan Waller, Gareth Denman, Courtney Lawes, Tom Wood, Kahn Fotuali’i. George Pisi, James Wilson

Outs: Saints: Corbisiero (shoulder), Fisher (toe), Collins (hamstring), North (concussion)

Most recent meeting: December 19, 2009: Treviso 18 Saints 21

Tom’s preview: December double-headers have produced plenty of indelible memories for Saints in recent years.

However, it is safe to say, they would settle for no thrills and spills if it meant getting the wins they need in the next two weeks.

Saints have craved a meeting with an Italian outfit during this time of year, instead being handed Irish tests during the previous two seasons.

Ulster and Leinster both won at Franklin’s Gardens before Jim Mallinder’s men produced Lazarus-like recoveries across the Irish Sea a week later.

But with earlier results having already put them in a perilous position, Saints failed to progress past the pool stages.

So while the wins (and subsequent nights out) in Belfast and Dublin were worth savouring, the end result was not.

Yes, the Challenge Cup was claimed in Cardiff last season, but Saints only desire to dine at the top table of European rugby.

And since they reached the final of the Heineken Cup in 2011, a last-eight spot has eluded them.

This year, with the make-up of Pool 5 as it is, they expect to move on to the next stage.

But the opening weekend defeat at Racing Metro has again meant they have no room for error in the pre-Christmas clashes.

Just as they did last Sunday, Saints will face a side without a win this season.

But Treviso will surely pose a toughest test than London Welsh, who were slayed 43-14.

The PRO12 basement side drew with Leinster recently and gave Racing a fright in October’s Champions Cup meeting.

Nevertheless, Saints know they will be heavy favourites.

There can be no exchanging of points and pleasantries this month, both victories must be pouched by the men from Northampton.

Then, should Racing slip up against Ospreys, Saints will be sitting pretty come the final two rounds of matches in January.

With standards set as high as they are at Franklin’s Gardens, the Premiership champions will have lofty ambitions.

But they must ensure that the mountain they have to climb does not get any steeper in Italy this weekend.

Tom’s prediction: Treviso 15 Saints 25