How are they getting on?
Poorly. After strong starts both teams are in free-fall, between them having not won a game in the Premiership since September. Northampton are coming off a few really poor losses against Worcester and Sale, traditionally two of the basement teams in the league. Before then they lost by sixteen points to Wasps and five to Gloucester. It is a pretty dismal run, the one mitigation being that only the Wasps result was at Franklin’s Gardens where they are usually much stronger.
Newcastle couldn’t find a way through the Gloucester defence at Kingston Park on Friday night having lost to Wasps, Leicester and Exeter in the weeks before. It isn’t looking good for them either and they have plummeted down the table having briefly occupied the top spot in the opening months.
What to look out for:
- How will Northampton look with their talismen back? Northampton seem to rely heavily on the leadership of Dylan Hartley and Courtney Lawes and having their two key lineout operators back could see a reversal in fortunes. Lawes has continued his excellent form over the international break and was Eddie Jones’ go-to lock over the games, possibly an indication that he has finally solidified his position within the starting lineup. Hartley is now looking set to lead England into the next World Cup having previously been viewed as a stopgap captain. Northampton will be hoping the return of these two will end their losing streak.
- Mallinder at fifteen – The last time I saw Harry Mallinder at fullback he showed an alarming turn of pace to score a fantastic solo try, an indication that it may be his best position after all. Friday will be another chance to impress for the giant youngster and I will be watching to see if he can replicate this performance. He is up against a very strong Newcastle back three in Goneva, Sinoti and Hammersley as well as a canny operator in Toby Flood who will test Mallinder’s positional awareness. It will be another important test for the youngster as time runs out to make the England Squad for 2019.
- A new face but familiar name at fly half – Seeing the name Grayson in the ten shirt will be a nostalgic sight for many Saints fans. Nineteen year-old James is the son of Northampton legend Paul and it is quite the call to give him the start over Piers Francis who is returning from England duty. There must be some confidence in him from the management and we have seen Harlequins have great success with an even younger fly half this season, so I will be intrigued to see what he looks like.
I’m a bit nervous because I’ve got them all wrong recently and these two sides seem to be racing to the bottom of the table. I would usually give Northampton the edge at home but Newcastle seem to have a significantly stronger and settled starting XV so I think they’ll pull off an upset away from home.