Northampton Saints v Gloucester: Tom Vickers' big match preview

Fixture: Northampton Saints v Gloucester

Friday, 27th December 2019, 12:47 pm
Updated Friday, 27th December 2019, 12:48 pm
Dan Biggar scored as Saints beat Exeter in the final game of 2018

Competition: Gallagher Premiership, round seven

Venue: Franklin's Gardens, Northampton

Date and kick-off time: Saturday, December 28, 2019, 2pm

Live television coverage: BT Sport 2

Weather forecast: 9c, cloudy

Referee: Karl Dickson

Saints: Furbank; Collins, Hutchinson, Francis, Naiyaravoro; Biggar, Reinach; van Wyk, Haywood, Painter; Moon, Lawes; Wood, Ludlam, Harrison (c).

Replacements: Matavesi, Waller, Hill, Ratuniyarawa, Ribbans, Taylor, Symons, Tuala.

Gloucester: Marshall; Sharples, Harris, Atkinson, Rees-Zammit; Cipriani, Heinz (c); Hohneck, Marais, Ford-Robinson; Craig, Mostert; Ackermann, Ludlow, Morgan.

Replacements: Gleave, Seville, Balmain, Grobler, Clarke, Simpson, Twelvetrees, Banahan.

Outs: Saints: Alex Mitchell (knee), Reuben Bird-Tulloch (hand), Tommy Freeman (illness), Jamie Gibson (ankle), Ollie Sleightholme (head), Matt Proctor (head).

Most recent meeting: Sunday, April 7, 2019: Saints 31 Gloucester 40 (Gallagher Premiership)

Tom's preview: When Saints run out against Gloucester on Saturday, it will be exactly a year to the day since they claimed one of their biggest successes under the stewardship of Chris Boyd.

On December 28 last year, the black, green and gold tore up pre-match predictions and turned over an Exeter Chiefs team who were expected to cruise to victory at Franklin's Gardens.

The 31-28 triumph gave Saints the belief they could beat anyone, and eventually they made it all the way to the Premiership play-off semi-finals, where Exeter exacted their revenge.

But the fact Boyd had steered his side to a top-four finish - plus a Challenge Cup quarter-final and Premiership Rugby Cup glory - showed the progress they had made.

And whatever happens against Gloucester on Saturday afternoon, the club can reflect on a 12 months that saw it return to the big time, playing on the big stage in the biggest games.

Now they could just do with a little shot in the arm like the one they got against Exeter this time last year.

It would help to put to bed a brutal run during which Saints have lost to Leinster - twice - and Sale Sharks.

Those have been some of their toughest 2019 assignments and they would love to get back on track by beating Gloucester this weekend.

It won't be easy, of course, as the Cherry and Whites are another club who have developed thanks to some shrewd management.

They too are moving forward and they too will harbour hopes of a top-four finish in the Premiership this season.

They, like Saints, play an entertaining brand of rugby, but they have also been able to display their doggedness in defence, especially when winning at Sale on the opening day.

Last weekend, Saints were reminded how tough games at the AJ Bell Stadium can be, so the fact Gloucester toughed it out to win there in October shows what they can do on the road.

But Saints, backed by a full house at Franklin's Gardens, will believe they can overcome this hurdle, as they did against Exeter at the end of 2019.

It is another crucial fixture ahead of a January that is full of them.

And how Saints would love to end the year on a high once again as they bid to give themselves the perfect platform when 2020 arrives.

Tom's prediction: Games between Saints and Gloucester are rarely short of entertainment, and there is no reason why this one should be, either. With a full house at Franklin's Gardens, Saints should have the backing they need to edge this fixture. Saints 30 Gloucester 28.