Tom Vickers’ Northampton Saints v Wasps preview

Ahsee Tuala scored an eye-catching try in Saints' win against Wasps at Franklin's Gardens in March, 2015 (picture: Sharon Lucey)
Ahsee Tuala scored an eye-catching try in Saints' win against Wasps at Franklin's Gardens in March, 2015 (picture: Sharon Lucey)

Fixture: Northampton Saints v Wasps (Aviva Premiership round 10)

Date/kick-off time: Friday, January 29, 7.45pm

Weather forecast: 11C, mostly cloudy

Referee: Thomas Foley

Saints: Mallinder; Elliott, G Pisi, Burrell, Collins; Myler, Kessell; A Waller, Haywood, Brookes; Paterson, Matfield; Wood (c), Harrison, Dickinson.

Replacements: Williams, E Waller, Denman, Craig, Gibson, Dickson, Hanrahan, Wilson.

Wasps: Miller; Halai, Macken, Downey, Bassett; Gopperth, Robson; McIntyre, Shervington, Cooper-Woolley; Gaskell, Myall; Rieder, Smith (c), Hughes.

Replacements: Johnson, Bristow, Swainston, Cannon, Young, Stevenson, Jackson, Tagicakibau.

Outs: Saints: Clark (shoulder), Fotuali’i (hamstring), Hartley, Hill, Lawes, North (international duty).

Most recent meeting: Friday, March 27: Saints 52 Wasps 30 (Aviva Premiership)

Tom’s preview: Saints have come up against some pretty good attacking teams at Franklin’s Gardens this season.

And yet only one of those has managed to crack the code of the Northampton defence.

Scarlets scrum-half Gareth Davies is the only opposition player to have dotted down at the Gardens during this campaign.

Saints have not conceded a try in their past four home games and even free-scoring Saracens, Racing 92 and Exeter Chiefs failed to penetrate the home rearguard.

Saracens’ 12-6 victory back in November is the only one an away side has managed at the Gardens during this term.

Quite simply, Saints have gritted their teeth, rolled up their sleeves and scrapped to earn points.

Racing 92 did claim a 9-9 draw, but Gloucester, Scarlets, Exeter and, most recently, Glasgow Warriors have been sent packing having suffered defeat.

Yet narrow wins and defensive defiance do not necessarily satisfy the paying public.

Some supporters have been left disappointed with the style of play that has proved so effective for Saints on their own turf this season.

But wins trump entertainment when silverware is up for grabs, and fans will at least be pleased their team is still in position for a tilt at the top four.

However, Saints know they must get every area of their game up to scratch if they are to close the seven-point gap to fourth-placed Leicester Tigers.

And this week, forwards coach Dorian West, who has certainly earned his corn again this season, spoke about turning pressure into points.

He knows some try-scoring opportunities have come and gone for Saints at the Gardens.

And he also knows that if they can add that ruthless streak to their game, then Saracens may remain the only side with a win to their names in Northampton this season.

The signs are certainly there.

Last Saturday’s success at Scarlets required a show of ambition.

Saints needed a bonus-point win, and they delivered it with plenty of time to spare.

They displayed a cutting edge, with three of the scores coming from the backs.

And it was another adventurous performance on the road, following the narrow defeat at Leicester, which saw Jim Mallinder’s men play some tidy rugby during the second half.

So, it is coming.

And if the A game arrives this week, Wasps, who like to play an expansive brand themselves, will be brought back to earn with a bump after last week’s stunning 51-10 win against Leinster.

Dai Young’s men do not have a good record at the Gardens, having not won there since November, 2005.

They have shipped an alarming total of 126 points in their past two visits to Northampton, with last season’s 52-30 defeat preceded by a 74-13 evisceration in May, 2014.

But they have come a long way since then, proving they can mix it with the best Europe has to offer.

And Saints will recognise that they must show they belong in that category if they are to get a precious win this week.

Tom’s prediction: Saints 18 Wasps 11