Sale Sharks v Leicester, Aviva Premiership, February 25
Gloucester tackle shaky Saints
February 25, 2011
Gloucester's Jim Hamilton braces for impact during his side's victory over London Irish last weekend © Getty Images
Gloucester usurped Northampton in the Aviva Premiership table last weekend and will look to put further distance between themselves and the mis-firing Saints at Franklin's Gardens on Saturday.
The Cherry and Whites broke into the play-off places a fortnight ago and underlined their recent improvement with victory over London Irish in their last outing. That victory was their seventh in a row in all competitions and they will be favourites to extend that run against a Northampton side reeling from four straight Premiership defeats.
Stripped of their international talent, the Saints were swept aside by Bath in their most recent reverse and the alarm bells will be ringing with the Six Nations yet to reach the half way mark.
Northampton - Player to Watch: Captain and flanker Phil Dowson was off his normal game against Bath last weekend and will be out to right a few wrongs this weekend.
Northampton - Team News: Jon Clarke switches from inside to outside centre to replace the injured Joe Ansbro with James Downey drafted into the No.12 shirt. Paul Diggin also returns to the side on the left wing at the expense of Scott Armstrong and Ryan Powell takes over from Stuart Commins at scrum-half. Mark Sorenson comes into the second row with Christian Day dropping to the bench and Mark Easter gets the nod at No.8 with Roger Wilson missing out.
Gloucester - Player to Watch: Flanker Akapusi Qera made an impact off the bench against Irish and will be keen to cement his place with another strong showing.
Gloucester - Team News: The Lawsons, Rory and Scott, are absent on Scotland duty and Dave Lewis and Charlie Sharples both picked up knocks in the victory over the Exiles and are ruled out. As a result, Jonny May and Jordi Pasqualin are named on the right wing and at scrum-half respectively and England U20 scrum-half Dan Robson is recalled from international duty to take his place amongst the replacements. Meanwhile, in the pack, Olivier Azam comes in for Lawson at hooker and Qera gets the nod instead of Andy Hazell who played against Irish despite being unwell. Of note amongst the replacements are the returns to the first team squad of Dave Attwood and Henry Trinder who both made playing comebacks in the A League on Monday evening.
Key Battle: The Saints front-row are rarely out-muscled like they were against Bath last time out so expect the likes of Soane Tonga'uiha, Brett Sharman and Brian Mujati to be chomping at the bit as they pack down against Gloucester's Nick Wood, Olivier Azam and Paul Doran-Jones.
Trivia: Northampton have won their last four encounters with Gloucester in all competitions while the Cherry and Whites have won just two of their last five visits to Franklin's Gardens.
Stats: Gloucester have leaked a total of 78 points in their last two visits to Franklin's Gardens - a 40-22 defeat in 2009 and a 38-23 reverse last year.
"We have not become a bad team overnight. We played well for long periods against Saracens, as we have done for the vast majority of the season. The players have been in a positive frame of mind this week in training, have worked hard and been honest with each other about what we need to do this week and for the rest of the season." - Saints boss Jim Mallinder talks up his side's chances
"We've highlighted that they don't lose very often at home and we know that we're in for a very tough game and it could well be close. We're going away from home to a top two club and we've got to front up." - Gloucester head coach Bryan Redpath is well aware of the task facing his side
Fantasy: Gloucester's Luke Narraway has been in fine form for the Cherry and Whites during their march up the table - is he in your ESPNscrum Premiership Fantasy Rugby team?
Prediction: Franklin's Gardens has not been a happy hunting ground of late for Gloucester but the Saints' recent implosion and the Cherry and Whites' increasing assurance should ensure a rare away day success.
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