Saints in the ruder health as local rivals vie for final spot

Weekend Preview



Leicester v Northampton


If Northampton could be granted one wish, they would like to be Leicester.

They envy their neighbours' stadium, their audience, their trophy cabinet, their influential position at the very heart of English club rugby. If Leicester could have an immediate craving fulfilled, it would be to reclaim top-dog status in Europe from ... you guessed it, Northampton. With so little separating the two East Midlands clubs in terms of style and desire, they could impersonate each other for an entire season and not be found out.

We will find out things about both sides today, though. Under normal circumstances, home advantage would almost guarantee the Tigers a seventh successive Premiership final appearance, but the champions' scratchy form does not sit happily alongside the surge of big-game authority that has earned the Saints a place in next weekend's Heineken Cup showpiece in Cardiff. Leicester have the stronger squad, but in the 15 v 15 context, it is possible to argue that their nearest and dearest are in better shape.

Northampton, always reluctant to tinker with selection, have made just the one change to their regular line-up, Bruce Reihana replacing Paul Diggin on the left wing. Leicester go in with Steve Mafi at lock and Jordan Crane at No 8. Once again, the England tight-head prop Dan Cole must play second fiddle to Martin Castrogiovanni.

Saracens v Gloucester

Steve Borthwick, the deposed England captain, is not renowned for laughing in public, but his sides will surely split asunder if Saracens go one better than last year and lay hands on the Premiership trophy. Players up and down the country who admire his work ethic and swear by his powers of analysis see no reason to change their view just because the national selectors have decided to dump on him, and that includes a one or two senior Gloucester types who understand what he brings to the mix.

To stand a chance of winning tomorrow, the West Countrymen will have to out-think Borthwick at the line-out and make the most of every sliver of front-foot possession on offer. If they can stay with Saracens in the close-quarters contest – the home side's scrummage has improved out of all recognition, thanks to the addition of Matt Stevens – they are sufficiently imaginative with ball in hand to ask serious questions of the tournament's meanest defence.

Bath-bound Dave Attwood must make do with a seat on the Gloucester bench – Jim Hamilton and Alex Brown, second-row peas from very different pods, will start the game – while the unusually substantial Tim Molenaar has beaten the promising Henry Trinder to the outside centre berth. Saracens are pretty much at full strength, leaving aside a couple of Pacific islanders on the long-term injury list. The likes of Alex Goode, David Strettle and Richard Wigglesworth would love to catch the eye ahead of the World Cup training squad selection, as would Stevens.

Munster v Ospreys

There is another tournament in town – or rather, in these islands. Tonight's Magners League semi-final between Munster and Ospreys at Thomond Park gives the underperforming Welsh region a chance to prolong a campaign that has been on life support for months, and if they prevail, which would be just like them, there will be a good deal of self-justificatory mirth down Swansea way.

"We will have to lift our game from where it's been in recent weeks," said Scott Johnson, their director of coaching, making a late bid for the "understatement of the season" gong. "However, our preparation hasn't been about knee-jerk reactions. We've made sure the guys know what they have to do and have the confidence to really enjoy the challenge."

Once again, Johnson has ignored the Lions scrum-half Mike Phillips, whose attempts to leave the club have come home to roost. He is not even on the bench, which contains a pair of All Black flankers in Jerry Collins and Marty Holah.

News
peopleFrankie Boyle responds to referendum result in characteristically offensive style
News
news
Life and Style
Couples have been having sex less in 2014, according to a new survey
life
New Articles
i100... with this review
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Voices
Holly's review of Peterborough's Pizza Express quickly went viral on social media
Sport
footballTim Sherwood: This might be th match to wake up Manchester City
Arts and Entertainment
musicHow female vocalists are now writing their own hits
New Articles
i100
News
news
Arts and Entertainment
musicBiographer Hunter Davies has collected nearly a hundred original manuscripts
News
Blahnik says: 'I think I understand the English more than they do themselves'
people
Arts and Entertainment
Michelle Dockery as Lady Mary Crawley in Downton Abbey
TVInside Downton Abbey series 5
Life and Style
The term 'normcore' was given the oxygen of publicity by New York magazine during the autumn/winter shows in Paris in February
fashionWhen is a trend a non-trend? When it's Normcore, since you ask
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam