Guinness Premiership - Round 13
Saints target return to the top
April 19, 2010
Shane Geraghty will return to the Northampton No.10 shirt against Bath at The Rec © Getty Images
Northampton will look to reclaim top spot in the Guinness Premiership when they tackle Bath in their re-arranged fixture at The Rec on Tuesday night.
The Saints hit the Premiership summit at the weekend with a 38-23 victory over Gloucester at Franklin's Gardens but saw Leicester usurp them at the top of the table with a 31-7 drubbing of Newcastle the following day. However, the catch-up clash with their West Country rivals - that was originally called off due to adverse weather conditions in January -offers them the chance to displace the Tigers and cement their own claims to a home semi-final in this season's play-offs.
Bath enter the game on the back of a comprehensive 34-15 victory over strugglers Sale on Saturday that ensured a winning start to what is a new era for the club following Bruce Craig's acquisition of the team last week. And they will enter the clash full of hope boosting their own play-off hopes having pushed Saints all the way before succumbing 15-13 in their clash at Franklin's Gardens in December during which Bath wing Matt Banahan was sent-off for stamping.
Due to the timing of the fixture, Northampton director of rugby Jim Mallinder has had his hands tied for selection due to the requirements of the England Senior and Saxons Elite Playing Squads that decree that a player can feature for no more than 160 minutes over three games. As a result there is no place for prolific winger Chris Ashton whose hat-trick last weekend saw him take his season tally to 22 tries in 29 games. His place is taken by Paul Diggin with Barry Everitt also coming into the side at fullback instead of Ben Foden. Joe Ansbro is drafted into the centre alongside Jon Clarke who switches to the No.12 shirt with Shane Geraghty handed the starting fly-half berth where he will partner Alan Dickens.
There are further changes up front with an all-new front row of loose-head Regardt Dreyer, hooker Brett Sharman and tight-head Brian Mujati. Lock Ignacio Fernandez Lobbe takes on the captaincy, in the absence of regular skipper and hooker Dylan Hartley, and will pack down alongside James Cannon. The rotation stretches to the backrow with blinside Mark Easter, openside Neil Best and No.8 Mark Hopley all starting.
Despite the enforced nature of the line-up, Mallinder insists that he has confidence in the team that has been chosen for the game. "Bath have had a good run of results in the past few months and are playing well," the Saints boss said today. "We are certainly expecting a tough game at the Rec tomorrow evening. But there is a good mood in the squad ahead of the game. We have confidence that the team that we have named can get a positive result at Bath."
After bagging a bonus point win against Sale, head coach Steve Meehan believes that the team are ready to follow that success up with another but they will be without fly-half Butch James who is still sidelined with an ankle strain.
"We were a little bit rusty against Sale but it was a good performance leading into tomorrow night and the match with Wasps at Twickenham on Saturday," said Meehan. "With a new owner coming in was a week that none of us have experienced before and there were some basic errors in the first 20 minutes I think as a result. But, the players got that out of their systems and then really played well. It was a great start for the new chairman and a nice way to send Andrew off."
Bath: 15. Nick Abendanon; 14. Joe Maddock, 13. Shontayne Hape, 12. Olly Barkley, 11. Michael Stephenson; 10. Nicky Little, 9. Michael Claassens (c); 1. David Barnes, 2. Lee Mears, 3. David Wilson, 4. Danny Grewcock, 5. Stuart Hooper, 6. Ben Skirving, 7. Julian Salvi, 8. Luke Watson
Replacements: 16. Pieter Dixon, 17. Nathan Catt, 18. Aaron Jarvis, 19. Scott Hobson, 20. Daniel Browne, 21. Scott Bemand, 22. Tom Cheeseman, 23. Matt Banahan
Northampton: 15. Barry Everitt; 14. Paul Diggin, 13. Joe Ansbro, 12. Jon Clarke, 11. Bruce Reihana; 10. Shane Geraghty, 9. Alan Dickens; 1. Regardt Dreyer, 2. Brett Sharman, 3. Brian Mujati, 4. Ignacio Fernandez Lobbe (c), 5. James Cannon, 6. Mark Easter, 7. Neil Best, 8. Mark Hopley
Replacements: 16. Andy Long, 17. Euan Murray, 18. Soane Tonga'uiha, 19. Juandre Kruger, 20. Roger Wilson, 21. Lee Dickson, 22. James Downey, 23. Grant Pointer