Harlequins will be desperate to not let their excellent regular-season work go to waste when they take on Northampton at the Stoop.
Harlequins will be desperate to not let their excellent regular-season work go to waste when they face Northampton at the Twickenham Stoop on Saturday.
Seventeen wins, one draw and only four defeats was their record this year as they enjoyed a stellar season being led by Chris Robshaw. The Saints meanwhile finished ten points behind Quins after a somewhat indifferent term that saw them lose eight times. All of that is obsolete now though.
What has been evident and will be this weekend is that Northampton are missing the force of Courtney Lawes, Callum Clark and Tom Wood, along with the lack of game time for lock Samu Manoa and also the absence of suspended captain Dylan Hartley. Although the latter has been ably replaced by veteran Andy Long.
Quins have also had their injury issues at hooker of late but the return of Joe Gray will boost them. Nick Easter will also have something to prove.
This week sees only one change to last week's starting XV and therefore one change to the bench also as Karl Dickson comes into the starting line-up in place of Danny Care who hasn't recovered from an injury picked up against Sale Sharks last weekend.
Mike Brown starts at full-back alongside Tom Williams and Sam Smith on the wings. Jordan Turner-Hall and George Lowe continue in the centre outside Nick Evans and Karl Dickson.
The forward pack is unchanged with Joe Marler, Gray and James Johnston in the front row. Olly Kohn and George Robson start in the second row. Maurie Fa'asavalu, Nick Easter and captain Robshaw complete the forwards in the back-row.
The replacements see Rob Buchanan, Mark Lambert, Will Collier, Tomas Vallejos and Tom Guest covering the forward pack. Richard Bolt comes onto the bench alongside Rory Clegg and Matt Hopper who cover the remaining backs.
Meanwhile, Ben Foden becomes the fourth Saint this season to hit his century of appearances in the black, green and gold – the others being Chris Ashton, Lee Dickson and Roger Wilson – and Mallinder paid tribute to the full-back.
“We have seen Ben develop his game consistently over the past few years, and he is now one of the important players we have at Franklin's Gardens,” he said.
“He has had an outstanding season for us and has shown how good he is at international level as well.
He added: “Harlequins have led the Premiership pretty much from start to finish, and will no doubt be feeling confident ahead of tomorrow's game,” he said. “They have won plenty of big games in tough places and have a team which is playing with confidence.
“The forwards have been providing good ball and Nick Easter, Danny Care and Nick Evans have been guiding the rest of the team into the right areas of the field.
“It is going to be a very difficult game for us, but I believe that we have the right mentality and players to be able to get the result we want. Training has been intense and positive this week and everyone has been focused on the challenge in front of them.
“We know we have the team to do well, now it is up to the players to show what they can do.”
Form: Harlequins play in only their second Premiership semi-final – the other was at home to London Irish in 2008/09 where they were defeated 0-17. Quins (along with Northampton) are the best home side in Aviva Premiership Rugby this season, with a won 9, lost 2 record. Harlequins nine game winning run at the Twickenham Stoop in the Premiership ended last time out at the venue when Leicester were the visitors. Northampton Saints reach a third successive Premiership semi-final but they have yet to make it to a final. Saints only reversal in their last five fixtures was 21-35 at home to the Tigers on 14 April. Northampton have won three of their last four away games. Each side won its respective home game when the two clubs met in the regular season, whilst Northampton's only win against Quins at The Stoop since 2004 was 20-16 on 11 September 2010. The Saints did however win the European Challenge Cup at the venue in 2009, beating Bourgoin in the final 15-3. The two teams have never met before in the semi of any competition.
Ones to watch:
For Harlequins: Left out by England in what now looks like being a closed international door, Nick Easter will be hungry to prove that he still has the goods this weekend. In his place travelling to South Africa will be Ben Morgan, Thomas Waldrom and James Haskell, which in many people's eyes is the correct selection looking ahead to Rugby World Cup 2015. No doubt Easter will have other views. Also keep an eye on busy full-back Mike Brown.
For Northampton: Six players from Franklin's Gardens will board the plane for South Africa this English summer, with Chris Ashton, Lee Dickson, Paul Doran-Jones, Phil Dowson, Ben Foden and Dylan Hartley all named by Stuart Lancaster. However, we have gone for two men who won't be on the flight south and they are props Brian Mujati and Soane Tonga'uiha. The stand-out front-rows in England over recent years seldom have an off day.
Prediction: The home side will be too good and deserve their final spot. Quins by 8!
Harlequins: 15 Mike Brown, 14 Tom Williams, 13 George Lowe, 12 Jordan Turner-Hall, 11 Sam Smith, 10 Nick Evans, 9 Karl Dickson, 8 Nick Easter, 7 Chris Robshaw (capt), 6 Maurie Fa'asavalu, 5 George Robson, 4 Olly Kohn, 3 James Johnston, 2 Joe Gray, 1 Joe Marler.
Replacements: 16 Rob Buchanan, 17 Mark Lambert, 18 Will Collier, 19 Tomas Vallejos, 20 Tom Guest, 21 Richard Bolt, 22 Rory Clegg, 23 Matt Hopper.
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 Ben Nutley, 20 Teimana Harrison, 21 Martin Roberts, 22 Stephen Myler, 23 Tom May.
Date: Saturday, May 12
Kick-off: 14:45 BST
Venue: Twickenham Stoop
Referee: Andrew Small