How are they getting on?
These two have suffered differing fortunes over the European break. Northampton, previously one of the form teams in the league, were brought squarely back to their feet with a repeat of their opening day humiliation at the hands of Saracens. This time the scoreline was even worse although the performance arguably not quite as abject. The result was followed by an away defeat at the hands of Clermont and while European fixtures don’t come tougher than these two, it was a stark reminder of where Northampton currently sit at the table.
Wasps, who were approaching crises mode, lost a tough opening game away to Ulster but recovered to hammer Harlequins 41-10 the following weekend. Supporters will be hopeful that this is a sign the injury-depleted Wasps are recovering, although the significance of a result against the inconsistent Harlequins is always difficult to gauge.
Will Wasps’ backline gel? – So far Wasps haven’t been able to match the scoring power that they displayed last season, however the forty-one points they put on ‘Quins could be a sign that this is changing. A lack of continuity has accounted for some of their troubles, with Danny Cipriani injured and new signing Juan De Jongh filling the important twelve shirt. The good news for Wasps is that if this is the case I would expect a significant improvement over the coming weeks as the backline begins to settle. They will be hoping that it continues to come together at Franklin’s Gardens
Piers Francis gets the chance to impress – Opposite Premiership Player of the Year Jimmy Gopperth (albeit playing in a different position to last season) stands Piers Francis, one of the lesser known names in Eddie Jones’ England Squad. Francis has had an unusual career trajectory, with previous clubs including Doncaster, Edinburgh, Waikato, Auckland and Counties Manukau. In 16/17 he made his Super Rugby debut for the Blues where he impressed enough to be fast-tracked into the England setup after he was offered a contract at Northampton. He hasn’t really had the opportunity to impress yet but it is obvious that Jones sees something he likes, so how he performs on Saturday will be intriguing.
Joe Launchbury takes on Courtney Lawes – I absolutely love watching these two play and their collective all-round skill-set ensures that this will be a second row battle for the casual fan as well as the purist. In his squad announcement Eddie Jones stressed that Chris Robshaw remains the first choice option at blindside flanker, depute rumors of either Lawes or Maro Itoje being moved into the back row. This development will ensure added spice on Saturday as it is unlikely that the match day squad will be able to accommodate both of these world-class operators.
Prediction: I think that this is a very difficult game to call as the two teams look to be heading in opposite directions (although at what rate it is hard to tell). Northampton played two very strong teams in the Champions Cup so I’m not ready to give up hope on their resurgence yet. I’ll make them slight favorites for a tight win at home. It will be a real statement of intent from Wasps if they can get the victory.