Northampton Saints v Harlequins: Tom Vickers' match preview

George North will start against Harlequins (picture: Sharon Lucey)
George North will start against Harlequins (picture: Sharon Lucey)

Fixture: Northampton Saints v Harlequins

Competition: Anglo-Welsh Cup

Date and kick-off time: Friday, February 2, 2018, 7.45pm

Venue: Franklin's Gardens, Northampton

Television coverage: BT Sport 1

Saints: Tuala; Pisi, Tuitavake, Stephenson, North; Francis, Reinach; van Wyk, Haywood, Brookes; Ratuniyarawa, Day (c); Ribbans, Gibson, Harrison.
Replacements: Marshall, Ma'afu, Ford-Robinson, Eadie, Brüssow, Groom, Myler,Foden.

Harlequins: Morris; R Chisholm, Marchant, Cheeseman, Alofa Alofa; Lang, Lewis; Lambert, Gray, McNultey; South, Horwill; White, Wallace, J Chisholm (c).
Replacements: Piper, Holenstein, Ibuanokpe, Twomey, Luamanu, Kitto, Prior, Murley.

Outs: Alex Waller (arm), Luther Burrell (calf), Dylan Hartley, Courtney Lawes (international duty)

Referee: Nic Berry

Most recent meeting: Saturday, December 30, 2017: Harlequins 50 Saints 21 (Aviva Premiership)

Tom's preview: As it turned out, there were few January blues for Saints supporters.

The sobering defeat at Saracens aside, it was positive after positive for fans of the black, green and gold.

The appointment of Alan Gaffney as technical coaching consultant sparked a run of three wins in four matches, following 12 defeats from 13 at the end of 2017.

Saints are now in a better position to push themselves up the Aviva Premiership table thanks to their win against Gloucester.

And they can qualify for the Anglo-Welsh Cup semi-finals if they get off to a flying start in February by beating Harlequins at Franklin's Gardens on Friday night.

That game comes at the end of a working week that has seen fans' favourites Api Ratuniyarawa sign a new two-year deal.

But that wasn't the biggest news - although he is a sizeable player! - as Saints announced the appointment of Chris Boyd as their new boss from August.

Boyd will bring huge excitement, having led the Hurricanes to their first Super Rugby title in 2016.

The 59-year-old is a success story and Saints will hope his magic comes to Northampton next season and beyond.

But for now, it is up to the current coaches and players to keep the feel-good factor going.

A win against Harlequins would be a good way to do that as not only would it secure a final-four spot in the Anglo-Welsh Cup, but it would maintain some momentum.

That is what Saints need ahead of key Premiership games against Bath, London Irish, Exeter Chiefs and Sale Sharks.

Their recent resurgence has given them new-found belief and a win against a Harlequins side who have a 100 per cent Anglo-Welsh Cup record would only serve to boost that.

It would also help to banish a few of the late 2017 demons.

Saints turned in arguably their worst display of the season when losing to Quins at Twickenham on December 30.

They were all at sea as the side from The Stoop ran riot.

But Saints have rebuilt since then, with that tough day down at Allianz Park the only blot on their copy book.

They have another chance to showcase their improvement now.

And a win would be a fitting way to end an upbeat week at the Gardens.

Tom's prediction: Saints 29 Harlequins 18