Northampton Saints v Newcastle Falcons: Tom Vickers' big match preview

Dan Biggar is back for Saints this weekend (picture: Sharon Lucey)
Dan Biggar is back for Saints this weekend (picture: Sharon Lucey)

Fixture: Northampton Saints v Newcastle Falcons

Competition: Aviva Premiership (round nine)

Venue: Franklin's Gardens, Northampton

Date and kick-off time: Saturday, December 1, 2018, 3pm

Television coverage: None

Referee: Matthew Carley

Saints: Tuala; Kellaway, Dingwall, Francis, Naiyaravoro; Biggar, Reinach; Waller (cc), Hartley (cc), Hill; Ribbans, Lawes; Gibson, Ludlam, Harrison.

Replacements: Marshall, van Wyk, Franks, Ratuniyarawa, Eadie, Mitchell, Burrell, Sleightholme.

Newcastle Falcons: Hammersley; Goneva, Harris, Williams, Sinoti Sinoti; Flood (c), Stuart; Lockwood, Cooper, Wilson; Green, Robinson; Wilson, Hardie, Nagusa.

Replacements: McGuigan, Brocklebank, Mulipola, Davidson, Graham, Takulua, Connon, Bettencourt.

Outs: Saints: Ken Pisi (shoulder), Nafi Tuitavake (neck), Andy Symons (knee), Jamal Ford-Robinson (knee), Harry Mallinder (knee), James Haskell (ankle), Heinrich Brüssow (concussion), James Craig (concussion), Tom Emery (shoulder), Mikey Haywood (knee), Tom Collins (eye).

Most recent meeting: Saturday, March 24, 2018: Newcastle Falcons 25 Saints 22 (Premiership)

Tom's preview: Traditionally, England's top tier has possessed a team you could consider cannon fodder.

A side that you knew no matter how badly your own season went, would take the fall for you at the end of the year.

Clubs would come up from the Championship and find themselves out of their depth, giving the likes of Saints and Newcastle Falcons some much-needed comfort and security.

But not this season.

The return of Bristol to the Premiership has put the cat amongst the pigeons.

The big-spending, ambitious side from Ashton Gate are here not only to survive but to truly compete.

And they have certainly done that so far, picking up a couple of precious wins and also pushing Exeter Chiefs harder than anyone else.

Bristol's strong start, allied with no one below Saracens and Exeter really stamping their authority on the league, has led to a really tight league table.

And it is one that is currently propped up by a team who reached the play-offs last season.

Newcastle Falcons have not got off to the flyer they would have hoped and are currently the basement side.

But after their win against Bath last time out, you wouldn't bet on them being bottom for long.

So Saturday's game at Franklin's Gardens takes on yet more significance for Saints.

Win, and they can open up some breathing space of at least eight points over Falcons.

Lose, and they could find themselves level with Newcastle at the close of play on Saturday.

It really is that close.

Saints boss Chris Boyd has insisted that he won't be putting league table pressure on his team.

He simply wants them to keep going out and expressing themselves.

But with eight games gone and home victories so vital in this most difficult of league seasons, Saturday's game doesn't need too much build-up.

Saints have matches at Worcester and Wasps sandwiching a home clash with Exeter Chiefs over the festive period.

Those, as most are these days, are hugely tricky encounters.

So they need the boost of beating the Falcons on home soil this Saturday.

If they can put together a performance like the one that got Franklin's Gardens on its feet against Wasps recently, they will be fine.

And they will hope their returning international stars can help them deliver it.

But if they don't, they will be well aware of the precarious position they could find themselves in.

So strap yourselves in, Saturday's game is set to be quite a ride.

Tom's prediction: Saints 25 Newcastle 20