Preview: Northampton v Ospreys

Date published: October 24 2014

Premiership leaders Northampton host Pro12 leaders the Ospreys in Saturday’s important Pool 5 clash at Franklin’s Gardens.

Premiership leaders Northampton host Pro12 leaders the Ospreys in Saturday’s important Pool 5 clash at Franklin’s Gardens.

Saints might have home advantage but the Ospreys are Europe’s only unbeaten side so far this season.

That statistic can be scrutinised if you’re so inclined; across their seven games the Ospreys have played Treviso twice, once in the Pro12 and once in Europe winning by an average of 33 points, along with the Dragons, Edinburgh Zebre and Cardiff Blues.

Their biggest scalp in that run though has been a home win over Munster, the only side the Ospreys have beaten that finished above in the top half of the league last season. So yes, the Ospreys are unbeaten, but the fixture list has been extremely fortunate.

Which makes their trip to Northampton all the more intriguing. Saints just don’t lose at home that often.

Over the past few seasons Jim Mallinder has put together a matchday squad with real depth and character, even if injuries and call-ups might take their toll later in the season.

For now at least though that depth is enough to give Northampton confidence, as lock Christian Day underlined earlier this week.

“Ospreys are a very good team and they are coming down here with an impressive recent record so we know they’ll be another tough test,” said Day.

“We’ve got a belief in the squad though that we are good enough to compete with any side, particularly at home. We’ve got a good record here this season and it’s something we’re incredibly proud of. We’ll be looking to protect that this weekend.

“We’re very much hoping to get things back on track.”

Facing the Premiership champions gives the Ospreys a whole new challenge against a side with multiple threats across their backline – something Jeff Hassler picked up on when discussing Wales winger George North.

“He’s a big, strong guy who also has quick feet, so it’s easy to find yourself flat-footed and thinking he might go over you when instead he comes up with gas on the outside. It will be fun to face him again.”

The confidence from their opening matches will do the Ospreys a ton of help, but Northampton ooze class. It could be the game of the weekend.

In team news, Samu Manoa becomes the latest man to hit 100 appearances for Northampton. The American has become a firm favourite at Franklin’s Gardens since making his debut against Gloucester in September 2011.

His appearances to date have included two Aviva Premiership finals, an Amlin Challenge Cup final and two LV= Cup finals, but it is his try scoring ability – 16 scored to date – and uncanny ability to make the big tackles when they matter that have helped earn him back-to-back Supporters’ Player of the Year awards.

Manoa lines up in a team that has two changes from that which started against Racing Metro in Round One, with Lee Dickson swapping places with Kahn Fotuali’i at scrum-half and James Wilson replacing the injured George Pisi at outside centre. Will Hooley comes onto the bench.

Meanwhile, Ospreys wing Eli Walker is set for a spell on the sidelines after receiving confirmation of ankle ligament damage. He suffered the injury in last Sunday’s win over Treviso and scans have revealed he is likely to be unavailable for a period of four to six weeks.

Hanno Dirksen starts in his place.

There are two more changes as Joe Bearman and Justin Tipuric come into the loose trio ahead of Dan Baker and Sam Lewis.

Form: These sides have only met twice ever in Europe, with Northampton clinching victory on both occasions. They scored a home 27-16 victory before claiming a 29-17 triumph at the Liberty Stadium. Ospreys, who are unbeaten in any competition this season, come into the fixture off the back of a crushing 42-7 victory over Treviso. Saints, meanwhile, were outplayed by Racing Metro, losing 20-11 in Paris. The English club do however sit top of the Premiership standings with five wins from six starts.

Northampton: 15 Ben Foden, 14 Ken Pisi, 13 James Wilson, 12 Luther Burrell, 11 George North, 10 Steve Myler, 9 Lee Dickson, 8 Samu Manoa 7 Tom Wood, 6 Calum Clark, 5 Christian Day, 4 Courtney Lawes, 3 Salesi Ma’afu, 2 Dylan Hartley (c), 1 Alex Waller.
Replacements: 16 Mikey Haywood, 17 Ethan Waller, 18 Gareth Denman, 19 James Craig, 20 Phil Dowson, 21 Kahn Fotuali’i, 22 Will Hooley, 23 Jamie Elliott

Ospreys: 15 Daniel Evans, 14 Jeff Hassler, 13 Andrew Bishop, 12 Josh Matavesi, 11 Hanno Dirksen, 10 Dan Biggar, 9 Rhys Webb, 8 Joe Bearman 7 Justin Tipuric, 6 James King, 5 Alun-Wyn Jones (c), 4 Lloyd Peers, 3 Dmitri Arhip, 2 Scott Baldwin, 1 Nicky Smith.
Replacements: 16 Sam Parry, 17 Duncan Jones, 18 Aaron Jarvis, 19 Rynier Bernardo, 20 Morgan Allen, 21 Sam Lewis, 22 Martin Roberts, 23 Sam Davies

Date: Saturday, October 25
Venue: Franklin’s Gardens
Kickoff: 17:15 local (15:15 GMT)
Referee: Romain Poite (France)
Assistant Referees: Cyril Lafon (France), Tual Trainini (France)
TMO: Jean-Pierre Pellaprat (France)