Northampton Saints welcome Wasps to Franklin’s Gardens on Friday as the Aviva Premiership returns to action.
It’s set to be a big clash between two Midlands rivals who are looking to build on the momentum which has taken them into the European Rugby Champions Cup quarter finals.
Separated by just two points in the Aviva Premiership table, there is all to play for in the chase for the top four!
In all there are seven changes to the Saints’ starting line-up from that which earned a bonus point win at Parc y Scarlets last Saturday, with Luther Burrell and Tom Collins returning to the back line and Mikey Haywood, Kieran Brookes, Michael Paterson, Victor Matfield and Teimana Harrison coming into the pack.
There is also the possibility of seeing James Wilson in action, the back included among the replacements for the first time since last May’s Aviva Premiership semi-final.
Meanwhile, Alex Rieder is in line for his competitive Wasps debut, as he is named at six in the absence of the injured Sam Jones and James Haskell, who is retained by England ahead of the start of the RBS 6 Nations.
In the absence of Haskell and Matt Mullan, George Smith captains the side.
Wasps are boosted by the return to fitness of Jake Cooper-Woolley and Nathan Hughes, who both made appearances from the bench in last weekend’s win over Leinster, and are named to start this Friday night.
Elsewhere, Rob Miller starts at fullback in the absence of the injured Charles Piutau, James Downey gets the nod at inside centre with Brendan Macken moving to 13, Dan Robson starts at scrum half after impressing from the bench last weekend following the injury to Joe Simpson and James Gaskell and Kearnan Myall link up in the second row.
“We were all really pleased last weekend, not only with the result, but with the performance, which saw us secure a European home quarter final, but now we return to the Aviva Premiership knowing that we have to bring that form into the domestic competition,” said Wasps Director of Rugby Dai Young.
“There are no easy games in this league, but a Friday night at Franklin’s Gardens is right up there with the hardest We haven’t won there as a club since 2005 and we know exactly how tough a challenge it will be.
“Despite being released by their national sides’ mid-week, it was difficult for us to include Matt Mullan, Elliot Daly, Bradley Davies and Lorenzo Cittadini, having already completed all our preparation for Friday night’s game It provides an exciting opportunity for the rest of the squad to step up, after waiting patiently for game time, and I am looking forward to them taking their chance.
“The game will test our depth and our ability to perform at the top level consistently, but it’s a challenge we are all looking forward to If we’re not on the money, Saints have the ability to punish us, and we’ve experienced that before at their hands, so we have to be fully focused on the task in hand and be at our best.”
Form: Northampton Saints have lost just one of their last four matches in all competitions: 27-30 at Leicester in Aviva Premiership Rugby on 9 January. The Saints have not lost at Franklin’s Gardens in any tournament since Saracens were the visitors in Premiership Rugby on 7 November. Wasps three game losing run in Aviva Premiership Rugby ended with their 32-22 come from behind victory against Worcester at Ricoh Arena in round 9. Wasps have won only one of their last 13 encounters with Northampton in all competitions since 2009: 20-16 at Adams Park in Premiership Rugby in September 2014. Wasps have not been victorious at Franklin’s Gardens since a visit in November 2005.
Northampton: 15 Harry Mallinder, 14 Jamie Elliott, 13 George Pisi, 12 Luther Burrell, 11 Tom Collins, 10 Stephen Myler, 9 Tom
Kessell, 8 Sam Dickinson, 7 Teimana Harrison, 6 Tom Wood, 5 Victor Matfield, 4 Michael Paterson, 3 Kieran Brookes, 2
Mike Haywood, 1 Alex Waller.
Replacements: 16 Matt Williams, 17 Ethan Waller, 18 Gareth Denman, 19 James Craig, 20 Jamie Gibson, 21
Lee Dickson, 22 JJ Hanrahan, 23 James Wilson.
Wasps: 15 Rob Miller, 14 Frank Halai, 13 Brendan Macken, 12 James Downey, 11 Josh Bassett, 10 Jimmy Gopperth, 9 Dan Robson, 8 Nathan Hughes, 7 George Smith (c,) 6 Alex Rieder, 5 Kearnan Myall, 4 James Gaskell, 3 Jake Cooper Woolley, 2 Edd Shervington, 1 Simon McIntyre.
Replacements: 16 Ashley Johnson, 17 Tom Bristow, 18 Phil Swainston, 19 James Cannon, 20 Thomas Young, 21 Jamie
Stevenson, 22 Ruaridh Jackson, 23 Sailosi Tagicakibau.
Date: Friday 28 January
Venue: Franklin’s Gardens
Kick-off: 19:45 GMT
Referee: Thomas Foley
Assistant referees: Ashley Rowden & Simon McConnell
TMO: Stuart Terheege