Foden eyes successful Christmas schedule


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The Independent Online

Ben Foden has urged Northampton to capitalise on a busy Christmas schedule of Aviva Premiership fixtures by cementing their place in the play-offs.

Saints will climb from sixth to third if they defeat Bath at Franklin's Gardens tomorrow. Further victories over Newcastle on New Year's Eve and Harlequins a week later would give their title aspirations a major shot in the arm.

Foden knows that it is a critical period that will have a major influence on how Northampton's Premiership season unfolds.

"It is really tight at the top of the league at the moment," the England full-back said. "One win can put you into those top four positions but we need to string a couple of victories together so we can get some momentum, especially over this Christmas period.

"We've got three important fixtures coming up so it is vital we produce some results."

Saints must focus all their attention on the Premiership after being knocked out of the Heineken Cup.

Even their 45-0 thrashing of Castres last Sunday has failed to ignite their hopes of progressing in Europe, but Foden insists it was an important result nonetheless.

"We were desperate to get things back on track last weekend," he said. "It took time to break down the Castres defence, but in the second half we started to play some decent rugby and hopefully we can carry that form into this weekend's game.

"We know that we have to focus our minds, work hard and play Northampton Saints rugby and once we get playing well, we are pretty much unstoppable.

"Being knocked out of the Heineken Cup has shown us that we need to go back to basics and that even the smallest mistakes can cost you in those games."

Sale will also be hoping to finish the Christmas period in the play-offs with victory over Newcastle on Boxing Day putting them on track.

Fly-half Nick Macleod believes the Sharks have profited from their 30-23 defeat by Exeter in late November.

"If we can get a win against Newcastle it would be the perfect way to end the year for us," added Macleod.

"The game against Exeter, where we threw away a 20-point lead, was a real disappointment for everyone but maybe it was also a blessing in disguise.

"Everybody really focused and worked extra hard in the fall-out from it.

"We have managed to turn things around by playing some good rugby and, with three wins on the bounce, it's looking promising."

Scrum-half Dwayne Peel returns to the Sharks' starting line-up while hooker Andy Titterrell features on the bench following his loan move from Leeds.

Newcastle hooker Rob Vickers makes his first start in three months after recovering from a serious knee injury, while Samoa flanker Taiasina Tu'ifua also returns.

"We know it is going to tough down at Sale and we have to go down there - be sharp and positive and really take them on," head coach Alan Tait said.

"They are a good side and their pack has a lot of gas and get around the pitch well.

"Their backs are also playing well and scoring some good tries - they are a very mobile side."

Gloucester are hoping to address a run of three successive Premiership defeats when they host Wasps on Boxing Day.

"We've lost our way a little bit. This week we've tried to get back to where we were earlier in the season," head coach Bryan Redpath said.

"We are trying to rebuild a bit. We've actually been playing reasonably well without winning."

Wasps fly-half Nick Robinson knows his side must run out at Kingsholm with all guns blazing if they are to secure a result against his former club.

"We will need a big performance to get a result as Gloucester are always a formidable side at home," he said.

"For us to go down there and get a win we are going to have to be on top of all aspects of our game."