Racing 92 v Northampton Saints: Tom Vickers' big match preview

Fixture: Racing 92 v Northampton Saints

By Tom Vickers
Friday, 21st January 2022, 12:26 pm
Tom Wood will make his 50th Champions Cup appearance this weekend as he brings a wealth of experience to a depleted Saints side
Tom Wood will make his 50th Champions Cup appearance this weekend as he brings a wealth of experience to a depleted Saints side

Competition: Champions Cup (pool stages)

Venue: La Défense Arena, Paris

Date and kick-off time: Sunday, January 23, 2022, 3.15pm (GMT)

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Weather forecast: 5c, cloudy

Live television coverage: BT Sport 3

Referee: Frank Murphy (Ireland)

Racing 92: Beale; Thomas, Klemenczak, Fickou (c), Imhoff; Russell, Gibert; Ben Arous, Chat, Gomes Sa; Jones, Palu; Diallo, Chouzenoux, Tanga.

Replacements: Baubigny, Gogichashvili, Oz, Bresler, Hemery, Short, Dupichot, Taofifenua.

Saints: Tuala; Sleightholme, Freeman, Hutchinson, Collins; Furbank, James; Iyogun, Fish, Painter; Coles, Nansen; Wood, Harrison (c), Augustus.

Replacements: Haywood, Auterac, Carey, Ratuniyarawa, Lockett, Tupai, Grayson, Litchfield.

Not considered for Saints selection: Emeka Atuanya, Dan Biggar, Callum Burns, Fraser Dingwall, Piers Francis, Jake Garside, Oisín Heffernan, Paul Hill, Courtney Lawes, Frank Lomani, Lewis Ludlam, Sam Matavesi, Alex Mitchell, Alex Moon, Taqele Naiyaravoro, Matt Proctor, Ed Prowse, David Ribbans, Courtnall Skosan, Kayde Sylvester, Alex Waller, Karl Wilkins.

Most recent meeting: Friday, December 10, 2021: Saints 14 Racing 92 45 (Champions Cup)

Tom's preview: There could be a feeling that Sunday's game in France is almost one too far for Saints.

After all, they have lost all three of their Champions Cup pool matches this season and are staring down the barrel of a place in the Challenge Cup knockout stages.

Not only that, but they are without an eye-watering 22 players for their trip across the Channel due to a combination of reasons.

Covid cases, self-isolation, injuries and necessary rest mean that many members of the black, green and gold could not travel this weekend.

But as forwards coach - and future director of rugby - Phil Dowson noted this week, as one door closes, another opens.

And for the men who will represent Northampton on Sunday afternoon, opportunity knocks.

Because if they can shine in this environment - and they don't come much tougher than La Défense Arena against a fired-up Racing 92 side - they can make the best of impressions.

For players like Ahsee Tuala, Tom James, Alex Coles and Brandon Nansen, there is a real chance to stake a claim for a prolonged place in the team.

With the Six Nations on the horizon and players away, Saints will need their entire squad to step up to keep their Premiership play-off bid on track.

So now is the time for squad members to show what they are made of.

The result won't be the primary concern this weekend - it will be about retaining belief and delivering a performance to be proud of.

Saints would also love to come through unscathed as they bid to have as many selections options as possible for the trip to face Worcester Warriors at Sixways next weekend.

So while this game looks like one that the black, green and gold really don't need, it is actually one that many of their players really do.

Now its up to them to show they can not only be part of the picture in France, but in England, too.

Tom's prediction: This is as tough as it gets for a depleted Saints side and there only appears likely to be one outcome here. Racing 48 Saints 18.