Preview: Bath v Northampton

Date published: March 30 2012

World Cup winning fly-half Stephen Donald returns to the Bath XV for Saturday's crunch Aviva Premiership clash with Northampton.

World Cup winning fly-half Stephen Donald returns to the Bath line-up for Saturday's crunch Aviva Premiership clash with Northampton at the Rec.

Donald links up with Michael Claassens as the two Southern Hemisphere half-backs reignite their partnership for the first time since February.

Matt Banahan returns to the right wing as Tom Biggs continues on the left, with Nick Abendanon at full-back. After making his first appearance since December as a replacement last week, Dan Hipkiss comes back into the line-up at outside centre, with Matt Carraro shifting inside.

In the pack, David Flatman starts at loosehead with Pieter Dixon and David Wilson scrumming down alongside him, and Dave Attwood and Ryan Caldwell continue their partnership in the second-row. There are also changes in the back row as Ben Skirving starts on the blindside flank and Carl Fearns shifts to the openside. Simon Taylor completes the pack at number eight.

Meanwhile, Saints director of rugby Jim Mallinder insists that it has been easy for his Northampton players to concentrate on this Saturday's Aviva Premiership Round 19 trip.

The Saints are currently fourth in the table, but with just three points separating them from the chasing pack in the hunt for a semi-final spot, Mallinder says that the team has been fully focused on getting a positive result in the game.

“It's been easy to concentrate on this weekend because it is a massive game for us,” he told SaintsTV this week.

“If we don't concentrate then we'll go down to Bath and get beaten. But we've had our focus on Saturday's game, the lads have trained well and we're looking forward to the challenge.

“We've got a good side for the game, but so do they. They've lost a number of players through injury, but so have we, so it's going to be a tough match. They're difficult to stop when they get on the front foot and get their offloading game going, but so are we and we will need to take the game to them.”

Form: Bath have slipped to back to back defeats, to Leicester in the semi-finals of the Anglo-Welsh Cup and at Harlequins in the Aviva Premiership. Bath's only reversal at the Rec in their last four Premiership matches was 11-14 to Gloucester on 18 February. Northampton Saints have lost just one of their last four Premiership encounters: 12-18 at Saracens on 4 March. Saints' only win in their last four away games was 30-23 at London Irish on 26 February. Northampton won 22-13 at home to Bath in round 11, but Bath gained revenge when the two met at the Rec in the Anglo-Welsh Cup on 28 January. The Saints have not recorded a Premiership double over Bath since season 2005/06.

The teams:

Bath: 15 Nick Abendanon, 14 Matt Banahan, 13 Dan Hipkiss, 12 Matt Carraro, 11 Tom Biggs, 10 Stephen Donald, 9 Michael Claassens (capt), 8 Simon Taylor, 7 Carl Fearns, 6 Ben Skirving, 5 Ryan Caldwell, 4 Dave Attwood, 3 David Wilson, 2 Pieter Dixon, 1 David Flatman.
Replacements: 16 Ross Batty, 17 Nathan Catt, 18 Duncan Bell, 19 Josh Ovens, 20 Guy Mercer, 21 Mark McMillan, 22 Sam Vesty, 23 Jack Cuthbert.

Northampton: 15 Ben Foden, 14 Chris Ashton, 13 George Pisi, 12 James Downey, 11 Paul Diggin, 10 Ryan Lamb, 9 Lee Dickson (capt), 8 Roger Wilson, 7 Phil Dowson, 6 James Craig, 5 Christian Day, 4 Mark Sorenson, 3 Brian Mujati, 2 Andy Long, 1 Soane Tonga'uiha.
Replacements: 16 Ross McMillan, 17 Alex Waller, 18 Paul Doran-Jones, 19 Teimana Harrison, 20 James Ingle, 21 Martin Roberts, 22 Stephen Myler, 23 Tom May.

Date: Saturday, March 31
Kick-off: 17:30 BST
Venue: Recreation Ground
Referee: Martin Fox
Assistant referees: Peter Huckle, Andrew Pearce
Television match official: Geoffrey Warren