Heineken Cup - Game of the Week
High-flying Saints head to Perpignan
October 15, 2009
Shane Geraghty will want to keep his sensational form going this weekend © Getty Images
Perpignan host Northampton Saints at the Stade Aime Giral on Friday, with the two teams having experienced contrasting starts to their Heineken Cup campaigns.
The Saints won a thriller against two-time champions Munster at Franklin's Gardens, while Perpignan were on the wrong end of the biggest upset in tournament history as Benetton Treviso pulled out a 9-8 home win.
Any excess confidence in the Saints camp should be firmly removed before they take to the field, as an away trip to the home of the French champions is never an easy proposition. Perpignan again lead the way in the Top 14, and accounted for Leicester and the Ospreys during an otherwise uneventful European campaign last season.
They will have to contend with the red-hot Shane Geraghty, who masterminded Munster's downfall last Saturday with a 21-point haul. Director of rugby Jim Mallinder has named an unchanged starting XV as the Saints look to emulate their class of 2000, who lifted the trophy.
Dylan Hartley again takes the captain's armband as he continues to mature as a player, with the explosive Courtney Lawes joined by Juandre Kruger in the second-row. Neil Best produced a performance tinged with menace last weekend and is retained in the back-row along with Roger Wilson and Phil Dowson.
"Although last Saturday was a superb occasion we have put it firmly behind us this week," said Mallinder. "Having said that, we will have to reproduce the attitude we took into the game with Munster to get a positive result against Perpignan in their own stadium. It is a hostile place to play and their fans will create an intense atmosphere. But it is up to us to remain calm and stay focused on what we have to do.
"Perpignan haven't been beaten at home this season and we are aware that they are the current Top 14 champions with a quality squad to match. But we took plenty of positives from the match against Munster and are approaching it in a good frame of mind."
Perpignan have no excuses after slipping up in Treviso, with a strong team having travelled to Italy. They have rotated their squad, showing good strength-in-depth as England prop Perry Frehswater, Pumas lock Rimas Alvarez Kairelis and French international scrum-half Nicolas Durand all return to the starting line-up.
Gerrie Britz shifts from the openside to blindside, with Jean-Pierre Perez replacing Damien Chouly. The sizable frame of Henry Tuilagi anchors the scrum.
The classy centre pairing of Maxime Mermoz and David Marty is given another chance to shine, while Jerome Porical, whose missed conversion of his own try handed victory to Treviso, will be eager to write a new chapter this weekend.
Perpignan: J Porical; F Sid, D Marty, M Mermoz, J Candelon; N Laharrague, N Durand; P Freshwater, G Guirado, N Mas [capt], R Alvarez Kairelis, R Tchale Watchou, G Britz, J Perez, H Tuilagi
Replacements: M Tincu, J Schuster, K Pulu, G Vilaceca, O Tonita, S Meyer, F Cazenave, C Manas
Northampton Saints: B Foden; C Ashton, J Clarke, J Downey, B Reihana; S Geraghty, L Dickson; S Tongauiha, D Hartley [capt], S Bonorino, C Lawes, J Kruger, P Dowson, N Best, R Wilson
Replacements: B Sharman, R Dreyer, B Mujati, I Fernandez Lobbe, M Easter, A Dickens, S Myler, C Mayor
Referee: Nigel Owens (Wales)