European Challenge Cup - Semi-Final
Saints lie in wait for Saracens
April 30, 2009
Dylan Hartley, the Northampton hooker charges upfield during the European Challenge Cup match between Toulon and Northampton Saints at Stade Aime Giral in Toulon, France on October 9, 2008.
Dylan Hartley returns to bolster Northampton's pack against Saracens © Getty Images

Northampton host Saracens at Franklin's Gardens this weekend with Jim Mallinder's side looking to book their place in the European Challenge Cup final in their first season back at rugby's top table.

The Saints have been boosted by the return to fitness of England hooker Dylan Hartley, who missed the final day of the season after sustaining a stomach injury against London Irish. Hartley is joined in the front-row by Soane Tongauiha and British and Irish Lions tourist Euan Murray. In the backs, skipper Bruce Reihana is joined by Paul Diggin and Ben Foden in the back-three, with Stephen Myler and Lee Dickson pulling the strings at halfback.

"Saracens have been playing well recently," said Mallinder. "They have a powerful set of forwards who can provide a good platform and in Neil de Kock and Glen Jackson, Saracens have half-backs who can control a game. They play an attacking style of rugby and in players like Richard Haughton and Noah Cato they have the talent and pace to exploit any opportunities they can create."

Saracens have rung the changes from the side that bowed out from the Premiership season with an attritional defeat at the hands of Bath last weekend, with six players earning recalls to the starting XV. Rodd Penney, Matias Aguero, Tom Ryder, Fabio Ongaro, Brad Barritt and Francisco Leonelli all return to action. Steve Borthwick leads the side from the second-row while Neil de Kock continues his comeback from injury by partnering Glen Jackson at fly-half.

"We're all really excited and looking forward to the game and the opportunity in front of us," said Sarries' caretaker coach Richard Graham. "Selection has been very difficult this week but those who were not named in the team have made it a very competitive environment in training and as a result, preparations have gone very well.

"This Challenge Cup has been a very good competition for us this year. We won all of our games in what was probably one of the toughest pools in the competition and then had a very good result against Newcastle Falcons. We've also played some pretty good rugby in Europe and we're looking to continue doing the game on Friday."

Northampton Saints: B Foden; P Diggin, J Clarke, J Downey, B Reihana [capt]; S Myler, L Dickson; S Tongauiha, D Hartley, E Murray, I Fernandez Lobbe, J Kruger, N Best, S Gray, M Easter

Replacements: B Sharman, T Smith, C Lawes, M Hopley, A Dickens, B Everitt, J Ansbro

Saracens: C Wyles; R Penney, F Leonelli, B Barritt, N Cato; G Jackson, N de Kock; M Aguero, F Ongaro, C Johnston, S Borthwick [capt], T Ryder, C Jack, D Seymour, B Skirving

Replacements: M Cairns, T Mercey, H Vyvyan, A Saull, M Wilson, A Farrell, A Powell

Referee: Romain Poite (France)


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