Planet Rugby

Preview: Northampton v Gloucester

28th February 2014 09:54

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Phil Dowson Northampton celebrating scoring a try against Bath

Double ton: Phil Dowson

Northampton Saints skipper Phil Dowson will make his 200th Premiership appearance in Saturday's clash with Gloucester at Franklin's Gardens

It is certainly apt that Dowson's double-hundred should come in a game against Gloucester as they were the same opponents when he made his Premiership debut in November 2001.

It took two more seasons for the flanker to score his first Premiership try, but since then he has gone on to cross the whitewash 25 times. Of his 199 appearances to date in the competition, 96 were for Newcastle Falcons and the 103 for the Saints, whom he joined in 2010.

Director of rugby Jim Mallinder hailed Dowson's achievement as "magnificent".

"Phil has been a leader and a senior figure throughout his time at the Saints, and I had plenty of respect for him when he was at Newcastle, too," he said.

"Passing the 200-appearance milestone in the Aviva Premiership is pretty rare, and reflects Phil's consistency throughout his career. He sets himself the highest standards and is a great example for the other players at the club.

"Phil certainly deserves all the congratulations that will come his way tomorrow."

Dowson will lead the Saints out, skippering a side showing two changes from that which beat the Falcons last Sunday.

Both are in the pack, with Alex Waller and Samu Manoa dropping from the starting lineup to the bench. Waller is replaced by his brother Ethan, with GJ Van Velze coming in for Manoa. Van Velze's introduction sees Sam Dickinson move into the second row.

There are four changes on the bench, with Lee Dickson back from England, Will Hooley returning after his match winning performance for Moseley in the Championship last weekend, prop Tom Mercey and injury returnee Ben Foden.

Meanwhile, Freddie Burns returns at fly-half as Gloucester make four changes to their starting line-up.

Burns replaces Ryan Mills who injured a knee last weekend in the 25-20 victory over Harlequins at Kingsholm.

Martyn Thomas has recovered from his hamstring injury and takes over from Shane Monahan on the left wing.

The only changes to the pack see Yann Thomas and Huia Edmonds replace Nick Wood and Darren Dawidiuk respectively in the front-row.

Gloucester travel to Northampton as the only team to defeat the Saints in the Premiership so far this season, and Director of Rugby Nigel Davies knows that Gloucester will have to be on top of their game at Franklin's Gardens.

"They've had a fantastic season so far, only lost the one game and are rightly at the top of the league right now. They're a very complete side, a very competent team and it's going to be a big ask for us," said Davies.

"They can score tries in a number of ways, they look to grind sides down with a very effective set piece. But they also have a more rounded game and have strike players throughout the side. They're not top of the league for nothing.

"We've adjusted quite a few things over the past couple of months and, to a certain degree, it's been paying dividends. There's a lot of energy, enthusiasm and confidence within the players and that's a good thing.

"We want to continue in the manner that we've been playing. That's the most important thing for us at the weekend. We know we have a number of challenges, and we have to front up and impose our own game and patterns."

Form: Table topping Northampton have won their last eight matches at Franklin's Gardens in the Aviva Premiership since Leicester won there last March. The Saints continue to set a new Northampton unbeaten record in the Premiership which now stands at twelve games - only Leicester have achieved longer unbeaten runs, having three better sequences. Gloucester's 25-20 victory over Harlequins at Kingsholm on Saturday ended a three game losing streak in the Premiership. The Cherry and Whites have not won away from home in the tournament since they visited London Irish on 29th December. The only side to have beaten the Saints in the Premiership this season were Gloucester themselves who did so at Kingsholm in Round 3. Northampton have only won two of their last seven encounters with Gloucester in the Premiership.

The teams:

Northampton: 15 James Wilson, 14 Ken Pisi, 13 George Pisi, 12 Tom Stephenson, 11 Jamie Elliott, 10 Stephen Myler, 9 Kahn Fotuali'i, 8 GJ Van Velze, 7 Phil Dowson (c), 6 Calum Clark, 5 Christian Day, 4 Sam Dickinson, 3 Salesi Ma'afu, 2 Mike Haywood, 1 Ethan Waller.
Replacements: 16 Ross Mcmillan, 17 Alex Waller, 18 Tom Mercey, 19 Samu Manoa, 20 Ben Nutley, 21 Lee Dickson, 22 Will Hooley, 23 Ben Foden.

Gloucester: 15 Rob Cook, 14 Charlie Sharples, 13 Henry Trinder, 12 Mike Tindall (capt), 11 Martyn Thomas, 10 Freddie Burns, 9 Dan Robson, 8 Gareth Evans 7 Matt Kvesic, 6 Sione Kalamafoni, 5 James Hudson, 4 Elliott Stooke, 3 Rupert Harden, 2 Huia Edmonds, 1 Yann Thomas.
Replacements: 16 Darren Dawidiuk, 17 Dan Murphy, 18 Sila Puafisi, 19 Will James, 20 Matt Cox, 21 Jimmy Cowan, 22 Billy Burns, 23 Shane Monahan.

Date: Saturday, March 1
Kick-off: 15:15 GMT
Venue: Franklin's Gardens
Referee: Tim Wigglesworth
Assistant referees: Nigel Carrick, Simon Mcconnell
Television match official: Rowan Kitt
Timekeeper: Tony Turner

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PosTeamPPts
1Bath00
2Exeter00
3Gloucester00
4Harlequins00
5Leicester Tigers00