Saracens v Northampton Saints: Tom Vickers' big match preview

Tom Wood
Tom Wood

Fixture: Saracens v Northampton Saints

Competition: Gallagher Premiership round one

Venue: Allianz Park, Hendon

Date and kick-off time: Saturday, October 19, 2019, 3pm

Television coverage: BT Sport 2

Weather forecast: 14c, partly cloudy

Referee: Ian Tempest (60th Premiership game)

Saracens: Gallagher; Segun, Lozowski, Tompkins, Lewington; Goode (c), Spencer; Adams-Hale; Pifeleti, Lamositele; Skelton, Isiekwe; Clark, Earl, Wray.

Replacements: Gray, Barrington, Wainwright, Kpoku, Hunter-Hill, Whiteley, Manu Vunipola, Obatoyinbo.

Saints: Furbank; Collins, Dingwall, Hutchinson, Naiyaravoro; Grayson, Taylor; Waller (c), Fish, Hill; Ribbans, Moon; Coles, Tonks, Wood.

Replacements: van Vuuren, van Wyk, Painter, Bean, Eadie, Tupai, Symons, Sleightholme.

Outs: Saints: Harry Mallinder (knee), Dylan Hartley (knee), Alex Mitchell (knee), Reece Marshall (hamstring), Mikey Haywood (knee), Jamie Gibson (shoulder), Paddy Ryan (knee), Teimana Harrison (chest), Heinrich Brüssow (hamstring), Dan Biggar, Piers Francis, Courtney Lawes, Lewis Ludlam, Cobus Reinach (all international duty).

Most recent meeting: Sunday, October 6, 2019: Saints 28 Saracens 54 (Premiership Rugby Cup pool stages)

Tom's preview: 'Strap yourself in, we're going for a ride'.

Those were the words of Saints boss Chris Boyd this week as he looked forward to the start of the Gallagher Premiership season.

And Saints fans will hope that the ride is just as enjoyable as last season.

Because the black, green and gold not only got back to the handy habit of winning games, they so often did it in style.

They will need to show that, plus plenty of substance, in a Premiership that just gets more difficult with each passing season.

But if Saints can show progression from where they ended the previous campaign, the possibilities are endless for this group of players.

That is not to say that supporters should demand a higher league placing this time round though.

This season will be much more difficult than in 2018/19, when Boyd steered his side to a fourth-placed finish that brought Champions Cup rugby back to the Gardens.

The addition of six pool matches in Europe's toughest competition will place far more strain on a Saints squad that is still in the formative stages of its development.

And that fact the schedule is so relentless until early in the new year means it will take a monumental effort to keep plates spinning at home and abroad.

There are no Challenge Cup breathers against the likes of the Dragons or Timisoara Saracens this season.

Instead, there are high quality games week after week, with matches against Leinster, Lyon and an ever-improving Benetton side interspersed with clashes with the likes of Saracens, Gloucester and Exeter.

Consequently, a top-six finish should again be the requirement, with top four and top two viewed as a bonus once again.

If Saints can consolidate and keep their place at Europe's top table while winning a few Champions Cup games in the process, it should be viewed as progress.

But the players, coaches and many supporters may not see it like that.

Squad members have already been speaking about setting their sights on a top-two finish this time round.

And that belief and confidence is admirable.

It is something Boyd has brought by the bucketload, with Saints never shying away from any challenge.

But in a season that promises to be the most demanding in recent memory, the expectations of those outside the club should be tempered slightly.

That being said, this Saints team allowed fans to start to dream again last season.

You would not bet against them putting together some more fairy tale rugby in the weeks and months to come.

And they have the chance to write a fantastic first chapter this Saturday against a Saracens side who have been the villain in their pantomime in recent years.

Tom's prediction: As season openers go, they don't come any tougher than this. A trip to the champions is never going to be easy, no matter what side they pick, and Saracens will be big favourites to extend their six-match league winning streak against a Saints side decimated by back row absences. Saracens 31 Saints 18