Northampton Saints v Timisoara Saracens: Tom Vickers' big match preview

Saints' game at Timisoara Saracens in December was cancelled due to heavy snow
Saints' game at Timisoara Saracens in December was cancelled due to heavy snow

Fixture: Northampton Saints v Timisoara Saracens

Competition: European Challenge Cup (Pool 1 - game six)

Venue: Franklin's Gardens, Northampton

Date and kick-off time: Friday, January 18, 2019, 8pm

Television coverage: None

Referee: Joy Neville (Ireland)

Saints: Furbank; Sleightholme, Hutchinson, Burrell, Kellaway; Grayson, Mitchell; Waller (c), Marshall, Hill; Ribbans, Barrow; Gibson, Ludlam, Eadie.

Replacements: Fish, Davis, Ford-Robinson, Coles, Wood, Davies, Tuitavake, Collins.

Timisoara Saracens: Simionescu; Zaharia, Popa, Umaga, Manumua; Samoa, Rupanu; Taupaki, Radoi (c), Pungea; Lazar, Iftimiciuc; Sabau, Rus, Tatarus.

Replacements: Capatina, Militaru, Halalilo, Stewart, Whitehurst, Neculau, Moala, Shennan.

Outs: Saints: Andy Symons (knee), Harry Mallinder (knee), James Craig (concussion), Tom Emery (shoulder), Mikey Haywood (knee), Dylan Hartley (knee), Piers Francis (shoulder), Dan Biggar (knee).

Most recent meeting: Saturday, December 15, 2018: Timisoara Saracens 0 Saints 28 (European Challenge Cup - match cancelled due to snow)

Tom's preview: The sight of Timisoara Saracens rocking up at the Gardens this week is likely to bring a smile to the faces of Saints.

Not only because Chris Boyd's men will fancy their chances of securing a big win that will book an away Challenge Cup quarter-final, but because it will bring back memories of a mad December weekend.

Saints were stuck in Timisoara for three days rather than the scheduled two after heavy snowfall hit Romania.

Not only was the game cancelled, but the flight was, too, leaving everyone on the club trip stranded on the tarmac (and snow) at the airport for more than six hours before being sent back to their hotels, which had to be rebooked.

It was a crazy experience, which involved players shovelling snow and making up quizzes to entertain everyone (credit goes to prop Paul Hill for the latter).

Overall though, it would only have strengthened the bond between the players who made the trip.

There were no real grumbles, just a determination to get on with it and get home... eventually.

Now Saints get the chance to take out their snow-fuelled frustrations on Friday night, and to bounce back from last Saturday's thrilling defeat at Clermont Auvergne.

Saints go from big underdogs to big favourites in the space of six days - and anything less than a sizeable bonus-point success would be a big shock.

Timisoara have been heavily beaten in all of the pool matches they have played - even by the Dragons, who Saints have smashed on two occasions this season.

So you certainly wouldn't bet on Timisoara upsetting the lengthy odds this weekend.

For Saints, it is just about getting the job done with a minimum of fuss and then sitting back to see where they will be travelling in the last eight.

They are hoping it will not be a Clermont reunion, not because they fear the French side - they showed last Saturday that they certainly don't - but because they want to go somewhere different.

They want to sample a new venue and square up to a new team.

But whatever happens, they will probably just be pleased that they don't have to battle their way through the snow in Timisoara again any time soon.

Tom's prediction: Saints 57 Timisoara Saracens 8