Bristol Bears v Northampton Saints: Tom Vickers' big match preview

Fixture: Bristol Bears v Northampton Saints

Friday, 28th September 2018, 1:23 pm
Updated Friday, 28th September 2018, 1:29 pm
Courtney Lawes and Co won at Ashton Gate during the 2016/17 season
Courtney Lawes and Co won at Ashton Gate during the 2016/17 season

Competition: Gallagher Premiership (round five)

Venue: Ashton Gate, Bristol

Date and kick-off time: Saturday, September 29, 2018, 3pm

Television coverage: None

Referee: Luke Pearce

Bristol Bears: O’Conor; Morahan, Hurrell, Piutau, Leiua; Madigan, Uren; Thomas, Thacker, Afoa; Holmes, Latta; Luatua (c), Smith, Lam.

Replacements: Fenton-Wells, Woolmore, Armstrong, Joyce, Haining, Stirzaker, Sheedy, Kirchner.

Saints: Tuala; Collins, Burrell, Francis, Naiyaravoro; Biggar, Reinach; Waller (cc), Hartley (cc), Painter; Ribbans, Lawes; Gibson, Ludlam, Harrison.

Replacements: Haywood, van Wyk, Franks, Ratuniyarawa, Eadie, Mitchell, Kellaway, Mallinder.

Outs: Saints: Dom Barrow (hamstring), Alex Coles (knee), James Craig (concussion), Paul Hill (shoulder), Rory Hutchinson (knee), Toby Trinder (foot), Ken Pisi (shoulder), Heinrich Brüssow (concussion), James Haskell (ankle), Nafi Tuitavake (neck), Andy Symons (knee).

Most recent meeting: Saturday, January 7, 2017: Saints 32 Bristol 26 (Premiership)

Tom's preview: For some time now, Bristol have been looming large on the horizon, causing anxiety for several Premiership clubs.

Everyone knew that they would be promoted from England's second tier - it would have been criminal had they not, considering the investment they have made in their squad.

And everyone knew that when they came up they would be competitive.

That meant, for the first season in some time, there was no team that could be considered cannon fodder in the league.

And that means established forces in England's top tier are put under increasing pressure to perform.

Some felt Worcester would be the big favourites for relegation, but they have displayed their capabilities already this season.

The Warriors' striking success at Leicester Tigers last weekend caught the eye and again inspired plenty of glances over the shoulder from many clubs.

No one, aside from Exeter and Saracens, really seems truly safe this season in a league where, from third down, anyone appears able to beat anyone.

And so Saints' fixture at Bristol this weekend is yet another encounter that is almost too close to call.

Bristol have won both of their home matches so far this season and, unlike when they last hosted Saints, during the 2016/17 season, they will probably start as favourites on Saturday.

Pal Lam has got his team to click already and they have already put the frighteners on Gloucester and Saracens, who overcame deficits to win at home to Bristol.

So Saints do not need any education on the opposition's credentials - they are there for all to see.

But there remains a confidence in the corridors at Franklin's Gardens that things will start to come good very soon.

Their two away showings so far have had plenty of holes in them, with their discipline letting them down at Gloucester and their set piece scuppering them at Bath.

But at times, there have been glimpses of the belief new boss Chris Boyd has instilled in his players, particularly in the home game against Saracens.

The squad and coaches are confident that it remains a matter of time before they really get up and running.

But they know they can't wait too long to produce a complete performance, with two big weeks ahead.

Saints take on local rivals Leicester Tigers at Twickenham next weekend and how they would love to go into that game with some sort of momentum.

Another away defeat would leave them still searching for real form, and it would also leave them continuing to languish in a disappointing league position.

Tables don't matter at the moment, but Saints will not want to get into a situation where nerves are allowed to creep in.

They are desperate for a shot in the arm, a statement success, and they will have to be on their mettle to get it against their old favourite Lam and his team this weekend.

It will not be easy, but you could say the same about every Premiership game this season.

Tom's prediction: Bristol 22 Saints 24