Wasps v Northampton Saints: Tom Vickers' big match preview

Saints secured a huge win in their league meeting with Wasps at Franklin's Gardens in November (picture: Sharon Lucey)
Saints secured a huge win in their league meeting with Wasps at Franklin's Gardens in November (picture: Sharon Lucey)

Fixture: Wasps v Northampton Saints

Competition: Gallagher Premiership (round 12)

Venue: Ricoh Arena, Coventry

Date and kick-off time: Sunday, January 6, 2019, 3pm

Television coverage: BT Sport 1

Referee: Luke Pearce (83rd Premiership game)

Wasps: Le Roux; Bassett, Campagnaro, De Jongh, Daly; Sopoaga, Robson; Zhvania, Cruse, Cooper-Woolley; Launchbury (c), Rowlands; Shields, Young, Carr.
Replacements: A Harris, B Harris, Stuart, Myall, Hughes, Hampson, Searle, Lovobalavu.

Saints: Tuala; Collins, Dingwall, Burrell, Naiyaravoro; Biggar, Reinach; van Wyk, Marshall, Painter; Ribbans, Lawes; Wood (c), Ludlam, Harrison.
Replacements: Fish, Waller, Franks, Ratuniyarawa, Brüssow, Mitchell, Grayson, Kellaway.

Outs: Saints: Ken Pisi (shoulder), Nafi Tuitavake (neck), Andy Symons (knee), Harry Mallinder (knee), James Haskell (ankle), James Craig (concussion), Tom Emery (shoulder), Mikey Haywood (knee), Dylan Hartley (knee), Piers Francis (shoulder).

Most recent meeting: Saturday, November 17, 2018: Saints 36 Wasps 17 (Premiership)

Tom's preview: It has been some time since Saints allowed themselves to flirt with the top four.

But the love affair appears to be back on after a beautiful end to 2018.

At the end of last Friday's fantastic 31-28 victory against Exeter Chiefs, Saints were back in the clutches of the Premiership play-off places.

Just a couple of weeks earlier, they were close to being gripped by the relegation spot, with Sale Sharks and Newcastle Falcons, who they had lost to in their previous two league matches, breathing down their necks in unwanted fashion.

But a convincing win at Worcester and a characterful showing against the Chiefs saw Chris Boyd's men briefly elevated to fourth in a league that is truly sending mixed messages this season.

Exeter and Saracens aside, you would be hard pushed to pick who will finish in the top four this time round.

Many would have said Gloucester were also a sure thing, but they were beaten comprehensively by a Sharks side possessing a swagger at Kingsholm last weekend.

Wasps would have also looked a good bet before the season began, but they have fallen away alarmingly in recent weeks, losing their past five games in all competitions.

And if Saints can extend that run to six at the Ricoh Arena on Sunday, Boyd's side really will be looking up.

Confidence is growing in the corridors of the Gardens as the new boss's game plan continues to develop.

And though they have struggled at times in the scrum, Saints seem to possess the attacking firepower to topple anyone they face in England's top tier this season.

They were clinical against Exeter and also looked far sharper in attack than Worcester.

And having already beaten Wasps twice this season, they will fancy their chances of claiming a third successive Premiership win this weekend.

But at some point, Wasps will respond. They have too much class not to.

And if Saints are to ensure that it is not they who feel the force of that backlash, they will have to start strongly in Coventry.

If they do, doubts will begin to creep in for a side struggling for victories.

And belief will once again increase in the black, green and gold camp.

If Saints can get ahead and get parity at scrum time, they have every chance of starting the new year as they finished the last.

And that would mean that by the time they return to league action at home to Sale two days after Valentine's, their relationship with the Premiership top four will truly be back on.

Tom's prediction: Wasps 25 Saints 32