Northampton Saints v Leinster: Tom Vickers' big match preview

Fixture: Northampton Saints v Leinster

Friday, 6th December 2019, 12:15 pm
Updated Friday, 6th December 2019, 12:17 pm
Saints lost to Leinster at the Gardens during pre-season
Saints lost to Leinster at the Gardens during pre-season

Competition: Champions Cup (Pool 1, game three)

Venue: Franklin's Gardens, Northampton

Date and kick-off time: Saturday, December 7, 2019, 1pm

Television coverage: BT Sport 2 and Channel 4

Weather forecast: 8c, mostly cloudy

Referee: Alexandre Ruiz (France)

Saints: Tuala; Collins, Proctor, Hutchinson, Naiyaravoro; Biggar, Reinach; Waller (cc), Haywood, Painter; Moon, Ratuniyarawa; Wood, Gibson, Harrison (cc).

Replacements: van Vuuren, van Wyk, Hill, Coles, Ludlam, Tupai, Grayson, Francis.

Leinster: Larmour; D Kearney, Ringrose, Henshaw, Lowe; Sexton (c), Gibson-Park; Healy, Kelleher, Porter; Toney, Ryan; Ruddock, van der Flier, Doris.

Replacements: Tracy, E Byrne, Furlong, Fardy, Deegan, McGrath, R Byrne, R Kearney.

Outs: Saints: Courtney Lawes (hamstring), Owen Franks (thumb), David Ribbans (back), Alex Mitchell (knee), Henry Taylor (thumb), Harry Mallinder (knee), Ben Franks (elbow), Reece Marshall (hamstring), James Fish (head)

Most recent meeting: Saturday, December 17, 2016: Leinster 60 Saints 13 (Champions Cup)

Tom's preview: "We talked in the shed the other day about not saying this game is critical because so is next week and so is the week after.

"You sit there and you go Leicester local derby, Leinster at home, Leinster away, Sale, Gloucester and Wasps - every one of those games is crucial."

Those are the views ahead of Saints boss Chris Boyd, who knows just how much every match means to Saints right now.

But you do have to feel that this Saturday's game against Leinster has more significance than most, perhaps all, of the others matches he mentioned.

In fact, it is probably the biggest game at Franklin's Gardens since Saints lost to Saracens in the Premiership play-off semi-final in 2015.

Why? Because if Boyd's side can get a win this weekend they would be in an incredible position in Champions Cup Pool 1.

They could almost go to Dublin the following week and treat their second battle with Leinster as something of a free hit.

All of the pressure would be piled on the Irish giants, allowing Saints a feeling of freedom at the Aviva Stadium.

And we all know how well they can play when their tails are up.

Lose this weekend and things will only get tougher the following week.

So this Saturday, it really is all to play for as Saints look to end Leinster's sensational start to the season.

Leo Cullen's side have yet to lose, winning all seven games in Guinness PRO14 and both matches in the Champions Cup.

They battled past Benetton at the RDS Arena before gritting their teeth to brush past Lyon in France.

And with most of their frontline players being given last weekend off, Leinster will not only be firing, they will also be fresh at Franklin's Gardens.

However, this Saints side is one which savours a challenge.

As Boyd pointed out, it is against lowly Premiership sides that his team have come unstuck in recent times, losing to bottom of the table outfits such as Sale, Newcastle and Bath.

They love taking on the big guns, with this hungry group of players, many of whom are still in the formative stages of their careers, excited about testing themselves against the best.

Leinster are certainly that.

They lost to Saracens in last year's final but are favourites to claim Champions Cup glory this time round.

They are packed full of international players and have a game plan that no team has been able to penetrate so far this season.

They even won all of their pre-season games, including a 34-26 victory at Saints in September.

So the size of the challenge is clear.

This will be several levels up from what a lethargic Leicester Tigers team served up last Saturday.

And Saints will need their supporters and players to lift their levels even higher if they are to lower the Leinster flags this weekend.

Tom's prediction: This is by Saints' toughest test of the season so far, but with the belief they have built up in recent matches and the determination they possess, they have a sniff of getting the win they really want here. Saints 30 Leinster 28.