Preview: Northampton v Harlequins

Date published: January 6 2012

Northampton welcome back Chris Ashton from suspension for Friday's clash with Premiership leaders Harlequins at Franklin's Gardens.

Northampton Saints welcome back Chris Ashton from suspension for Friday's clash with Aviva Premiership leaders Harlequins at Franklin's Gardens.

The match sees two of Aviva Premiership Rugby's in-form teams go head-to-head, with third-placed Saints – who have lost just once in the league since September coming up against the table-toppers from Twickenham.

Harlequins took the honours when the teams met at the Stoop in Round Two and Saints director of rugby Jim Mallinder says that his players have a point to prove.

“We were really disappointed earlier in the season when we went down to Quins,” he told SaintsTV this week.

“They have real quality throughout their squad and most of their players are playing well, too. They are a tough side to beat and we have to concentrate on our own game and maintaining our performance for a full 80 minutes.

“Perhaps we have over-tried at times recently but that isn't a bad thing. We know what we want to do and if we get our basics right, keep solidity in the set-piece and show good ball retention then the rest will hopefully come.

“We've been building a little bit of momentum of late and while we were a bit frustrated by some of our European form, winning against Castres and Bath at home and then picking up a bonus-point at Newcastle last week shows we are in good form and hopefully we can carry that into this Friday's game.

In other team news, there is a rare start for former Sarries wing Noah Cato, too, with Vasily Artemyev and Jamie Elliott making way.

The only other change for the Saints comes in the pack with fit-again Tom Wood coming into the back row for the sidelined Courtney Lawes.

Meanwhile, Harlequins will be buoyed by the return of Nick Easter for the trip to Franklin's Gardens.

Easter missed the nail-biting 11-9 victory over Exeter through injury but he has been passed fit to take his place in the back-row – with Tom Guest dropping to the bench.

Lock Olly Kohn is also recalled after returning to full fitness, while Chris Brooker and James Johnston have been added to the front row.

Tomas Vallejos, Tim Fairbrother and Joe Gray all drop to the bench, while Chris York drops out of the squad.

Form:Northampton Saints have won their last three games in all competitions, and have lost just once at Franklin's Gardens in Aviva Premiership Rugby this season: 13-14 to London Irish on 17 September. Harlequins continue to top the Premiership table, seven points clear of chasing Saracens, following their 11-9 victory at Exeter on New Year's Eve. Quins have won their last eleven away encounters in all competitions since Bath beat them at The Rec on 16 April. Harlequins won 26-13 when the two sides met in round two, but have not achieved a season's double over the Saints since 2006/07. Quins have won on two of their last four visits to Franklin's Gardens.

Rugby Union betting odds

The teams:

Northampton: 15 Ben Foden, 14 Chris Ashton, 13 George Pisi, 12 James Downey, 11 Noah Cato, 10 Ryan Lamb, 9 Lee Dickson, 8 Roger Wilson, 7 Tom Wood, 6 Phil Dowson, 5 Mark Sorenson, 4 Samu Manoa, 3 Paul Doran Jones, 2 Dylan Hartley (c), 1 Soane Tonga'uiha.
Replacements: 16 Mike Haywood, 17 Alex Waller, 18 Brian Mujati, 19 Christian Day, 20 Ben Nutley / Calum Clark, 21 Martin Roberts, 22 Stephen Myler, 23 Tom May.

Harlequins: 15 Mike Brown, 14 Tom Williams, 13 Matt Hopper, 12 Jordan Turner-Hall, 11 Ugo Monye, 10 Rory Clegg, 9 Danny Care, 8 Nick Easter, 7 Luke Wallace, 6 Chris Robshaw (c), 5 George Robson, 4 Olly Kohn, 3 James Johnston, 2 Chris Brooker, 1 Joe Marler.
Replacements: 16 Joe Gray, 17 Mark Lambert, 18 Tim Fairbrother, 19 Tomas Vallejos, 20 Tom Guest, 21 Richard Bolt, 22 Benjamin Urdapilleta, 23 Sam Smith

Date: Friday, January 6
Venue: Franklin's Gardens
Kick-off: 19.45 GMT
Referee: Dave Pearson