Preview: Northampton v Bath

Date published: December 24 2011

Jim Mallinder is adamant that his Saints are braced for a tough challenge when they play Bath at Franklin's Gardens on Saturday.

Jim Mallinder is adamant that Saints are prepared for a tough challenge when they take on Bath at a sold-out Franklin's Gardens on Saturday.

Northampton return to Aviva Premiership action in the Christmas Eve clash looking to return to the form that took them into the play-off spots in November. But director of rugby Mallinder believes that they will have to overcome a Bath team that has plenty of talented and experienced players.

“Regardless of results you cannot afford to take a team like Bath lightly,” he said.

“They have players who know what it takes to succeed at the highest level, including winning a World Cup, and Sir Ian McGeechan has coached successful teams wherever he has been.

“We were pleased with how we performed in the second half against Castres, but there have been plenty of things to work on from the first half and all the players have been working hard during the week to iron out their mistakes.

“It is a big match for both teams and we will need to be at our best to get a positive result.”

Meanwhile, Bath welcome back Ross Batty, Andy Beattie, Ben Williams and Matt Carraro to their starting line-up this weekend.

Batty comes into the front row alongside David Flatman and David Wilson, with Dave Attwood and Ryan Caldwell continuing their partnership in the engine room.

Andy Beattie takes up the blindside flank position, as Guy Mercer continues at openside and Francois Louw shifts to the back of the scrum at number 8. Simon Taylor is ruled out after picking up a knock against Leinster.

Michael Claassens and Stephen Donald link up once again in the half backs, as Ben Williams starts at outside centre, partnering Olly Barkley on the inside. Matt Banahan shifts to the wing, with Matt Carraro coming in on the opposite side. Nick Abendanon completes the line-up at full-back.

Form: Northampton Saints have won their last two games at Franklin's Gardens – against Saracens and Castres, but their four match winning run in Aviva Premiership Rugby ended last time out at Leicester. Bath Rugby have slipped to four straight defeats in all competitions, whilst their only victory in their last seven encounters since October was 16-13 at home to Montpellier on 20 November. Bath's most recent away win was 13-12 at London Irish on 29 October. The last five fixtures between the two clubs have all been won by the home side on the day. Bath's only victory against Northampton at Franklin's Gardens since 1994 was 17-13 on 22 April 2000, although Bath did beat Saracens 37-30 there in the Premiership on 6 November 2004.

The teams:

Northampton: 15 Ben Foden, 14 Vasily Artemyev, 13 George Pisi, 12 James Downey, 11 Jamie Elliot, 10 Ryan Lamb, 9 Lee Dickson, 8 Roger Wilson, 7 Tom Wood, 6 Phil Dowson, 5 Mark Sorenson, 4 Courtney Lawes, 3 Paul Doran-Jones, 2 Dylan Hartley (capt), 1 Soane Tonga'uiha.
Replacements: 16 Mike Haywood, 17 Alex Waller, 18 Tom Mercey, 19 Samu Manoa, 20 Ben Nutley, 21 Martin Roberts, 22 Stephen Myler, 23 Scott Armstrong.

Bath: 15 Nick Abendanon, 14 Matt Carraro, 13 Ben Williams, 12 Olly Barkley, 11 Matt Banahan, 10 Stephen Donald, 9 Michael Claassens, 8 Francois Louw (c), 7 Guy Mercer, 6 Andy Beattie, 5 Ryan Caldwell, 4 Dave Attwood, 3 David Wilson, 2 Ross Batty, 1 David Flatman.
Replacements: 16 Will Tanner, 17 Nathan Catt, 18 Anthony Perenise, 19 Will Spencer, 20 Josh Ovens, 21 Chris Cook, 22 Tom Heathcote, 23 Jack Cuthbert.

Date: Saturday, December 24
Kick-off: 15:15
Venue: Franklin's Gardens
Referee: David Rose