Northampton Saints v Ospreys: Tom Vickers' match preview

Luther Burrell is back in action for Saints this weekend (picture: Kirsty Edmonds)
Luther Burrell is back in action for Saints this weekend (picture: Kirsty Edmonds)

Fixture: Northampton Saints v Ospreys

Competition: Champions Cup Pool 2 (game three)

Venue: Franklin's Gardens, Northampton

Date: Saturday, December 9, 2017

Kick-off time: 5.30pm

Television coverage: Sky Sports Action

Saints: Mallinder; Tuala, Horne, Burrell, Foden; Francis, Groom; Van Wyk, Hartley (c), Ford-Robinson; Ribbans, Day; Lawes, Ludlam, Harrison.

Replacements: Haywood, Ma'afu, Hill, Paterson, Gibson, Reinach, Myler, Estelles.

Ospreys: Evans; Dirksen, Fonotia, Watkin, Hassler; S Davies, Habberfield; Smith, Baldwin, Arhip; B Davies, Wyn Jones (c); Lydiate, Cracknell, King.

Replacements: Otten, Jenkins, Fia, Beard, McCusker, Morgan-Williams, Hook, John.

Outs: Saints: Kieran Brookes (hand), Charlie Clare (knee), Tom Collins (foot), James Craig (concussion), George North (knee), Tom Stephenson (hamstring), Alex Waller (arm)

Referee: Alexandre Ruiz (France)

Most recent meeting: Sunday, January 18, 2015: Ospreys 9 Saints 20 (Champions Cup pool stages)

Tom's preview: Pride has been the buzzword at Franklin's Gardens this week.

Because while Saints' chances of progression appear extremely slim in Champions Cup Pool 2, one thing they can still control is the credit they take from the competition.

As it stands, they won't take much, having been heavily beaten in their opening two matches.

They were comprehensively dismissed by Saracens before a far better display resulted in another defeat, at Clermont Auvergne.

On that day, at the raucous Stade Marcel Michelin, there were a few things to be proud of.

But Saints' profligacy cost them points and they walked away with a 24-7 defeat to the French giants.

The upcoming December double-header against Ospreys would appear more manageable.

But with Saints having won just one of their past nine matches, they can hardly be too bullish about their chances.

Instead, they have opted to keep their heads down, work hard and somehow summon up the displays needed to defeat the Welshmen twice in as many weeks.

Saints' most recent win did come against a Welsh region, with the 41-7 success against the Dragons last month proving to be their only victory since the end of September.

It has been a horrible run for Jim Mallinder's men and the pressure and criticism continues to mount.

But to the credit of everyone at Franklin's Gardens, they have dealt with it in exactly the right manner this week.

They have not shied away from tricky questions and they have not gone on the defensive with the media.

Instead, all they are worrying about is delivering where it really matters - on the field.

Whether they can do that this weekend, it remains to be seen.

But you get the sense that whatever happens, there will be no shortage of passion in the performance.

That is important to the supporters who brave the cold to back their team this weekend.

But equally important is the result.

Saints desperately need some sort of momentum going into Premiership clashes with Exeter Chiefs and Harlequins later this month.

Some festive cheer would be so welcome for Mallinder and his men.

But for now, it is all about restoring that pride and beating an Ospreys side who claimed exactly that from their defeat at Saracens last time out in the Champions Cup.

Saints did the double over the Ospreys in both the 2013/14 and 2014/15 season - two campaigns that were among the best since Mallinder took over in 2007.

How he would love similar highs at the moment.

But for now, he would just settle for a good performance and that elusive win.

Tom's prediction: Saints 25 Ospreys 18