Tom Vickers’ Northampton Saints v Newcastle Falcons preview
Fixture: Northampton Saints v Newcastle Falcons (Aviva Premiership round two)
Date/kick-off time: Saturday, October 24, 1.45pm
Weather forecast: 13C, light rain
Referee: Dean Richards
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Saints: Foden; K Pisi, G Pisi, Burrell, Elliott; Myler, Dickson (c); A Waller, Hartley, Brookes; Lawes, Day; Gibson, Wood, Dickinson.
Replacements: Haywood, E Waller, Hill, Paterson, Fisher, Fotuali’i, Hanrahan, Tuala.
Newcastle Falcons: Hammersley; Venditti, Harris, Powell, Tuilagi; Delany Tipuna; Vickers, Lawson, Welsh; Green, Furno; Clever, Latu, Hogg (c).
Replacements: McGuigan, Fry, Vea, Botha, Welch, Dawson, Catterick, Penny.
Outs: Saints: James Wilson (arm), Calum Clark (shoulder), Victor Matfield (international duty), George North (rested), Tom Stephenson (thumb)
Most recent meeting: Friday, January 2, 2015: Saints 39 Newcastle Falcons 31 (Aviva Premiership)
Tom’s preview: Last season, Saints marched into the new season in style.
They trampled all over Gloucester, who were ground into the Franklin’s Gardens dirt in a humbling 53-6 Aviva Premiership opening-night defeat.
Saints ran in seven tries on that occasion as they asserted their authority as champions.
But, just a week later, they were brought back to earth with a bump as Wasps secured a gritty 20-16 success at Adams Park.
Saints had no answer to the the suffocating tactics employed by Dai Young’s fired-up side, who delighted in claiming an early-season scalp.
But fast forward 13 months, and the tables have turned.
This time, Saints are looking to do things the other way around after suffering a disappointing 13-12 defeat at Worcester Warriors on Friday night.
“It was quite a similar game to that Wasps game really,” said attack coach Alex King at this week’s media session.
“We played against a hugely motivated defence and we didn’t ask enough questions.
“We didn’t play how we set out to play and we just didn’t fire on the night.
“It’s important that we rectify those things on Saturday.
“We were probably a bit one-dimensional, they slowed down our ball pretty well and we didn’t play the way Saints want to play.
“We were pretty rusty, a lot of guys hadn’t played a huge amount of rugby going into that game and we’ll be better for that hit-out this week.”
Saints failed to score a try in that sobering 80 minutes at Sixways, with only four Stephen Myler penalties providing any solace.
Jim Mallinder’s men should be confident of crossing the whitewash a few times this weekend, with Newcastle looking porous in their 39-27 defeat to Gloucester last Friday.
But they will also have to show the same defensive desire as they did at Sixways.
Worcester only scored once, through former Saint GJ van Velze, as Saints fronted up in the maul and the scrum.
But the concession of a string of second-half penalties was a worry and one which needs to be erased this weekend.
Saints relish the stadium:mk atmosphere and while it is not quite home, the presence of around 20,000 fans serves to drive Northampton on.
With the likes of England stars Tom Wood and Courtney Lawes back in the team, they will be expected to win - and win well.
And they really need to, with a tricky run of games lying in wait in November.
A trip to Sale Sharks will be followed by the christening of the Barwell Stand, when Saracens head to the Gardens.
And then there are back-to-back Champions Cup games, against Scarlets and Glasgow, to be navigated.
But those matches are for another month.
Now Saints know they must finish October in style - and show that they can turn things around quickly in the land of roundabouts.
Tom’s prediction: Saints 37 Newcastle Falcons 15