Bath v Northampton, Aviva Premiership, February 19
Bath target Northampton scalp
February 18, 2011
Bath's Luke Watson is felled by the Northampton defence during their clash at Franklin's Gardens back in September © Getty Images
Northampton will look to bounce back to winning ways when they tackle Bath at The Rec on Saturday.
The Saints slumped to a 29-15 defeat against Saracens at Franklin's Gardens last weekend that saw them lose ground on their opponents and leaders Leicester in the race for the post-season. They have now lost three in row in the Premiership and are in desperate need of a win to improve their chances of securing what a one time looked like a nailed on home semi-final.
In contrast, Bath are unbeaten since the turn of the year with three successive Premiership victories on the bounce culminating with a 19-7 victory over Sale last Saturday. Add in back-to-back wins in the Anglo-Welsh Cup - one against Premiership leaders Leicester - and you have a side very much in form.
Northampton got the better of Bath earlier in the season but stripped of their big names due to international duty they have lost their way and look vulnerable.
Bath - Player to Watch: England captain Lewis Moody is set to make his return from injury off the bench and will no doubt have his hands full as he attempts to prove his fitness to Martin Johnson.
Bath - Team News: Bath welcome back Matt Banahan, David Wilson and Lewis Moody to their squad. Having been released by England, Banahan comes into the starting line-up, with Wilson lining up on the bench. Moody also takes a place on the bench for his first game since being injured in the Heineken Cup victory over Aironi Rugby in January. Nick Abendanon switches to fullback, with Tom Biggs joining Banahan on the wing.
Northampton - Player to Watch: Northampton are under pressure to stop the rot and expect flanker Phil Dowson to lead from the front. If the Saints are to emerge from the doldrums then it will be up to their captain to set the tone for the performance.
Northampton - Team News: Scotland centre Joe Ansbro returns to the Saints' line-up with Jon Clarke switching to the No.12 shirt. Stuart Commins gets the nod at scrum-half and partner fly-half Stephen Myler. But they will again have to do without England internationals Chris Ashton, Ben Foden, Dylan Hartley and Tom Wood while Courtney Lawes and Lee Dickson are still out injured.
Key Battle: The Saints' front row trio of Soane Tonga'uiha, Brett Sharman and Brian Mujati will not have liked being bullied against Sarries last time out but are in for another hard day at the office against Bath's David Flatman, Lee Mears and Duncan Bell.
Trivia: Bath boast three British & Irish Lions in their current squad - lock Danny Grewcock (2001, 2005), flanker Lewis Moody (2005) and back-row forward Simon Taylor (2001).
Stats: Northampton have notched 31 tries in the Premiership this season compared to Bath's 14.
"This game against Saints is a very big game for us. We were disappointed with the performance earlier in the season at Franklin's Gardens, so we have been looking forward to this fixture. They have been playing well for the last couple of seasons, so can't be underestimated. It's not going to be easy but it's certainly a challenge we're looking forward to." - Bath head coach Steve Meehan
"Last Saturday's game showed that we still have development to make as a team and we have to learn the lessons from the defeat. There is no better time to do that than in a tough game like we will have on Saturday." - Saints director of rugby Jim Mallinder
Fantasy: The boot of centre Olly Barkley has been key to Bath's recent revival and he could also be bagging you plenty of points - time to stick him in your ESPNscrum's Fantasy Rugby Game team?
Prediction: Bath are on a roll and should send a capacity crowd home happy - but will have to whether a storm or two beforehand.
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