Northampton v Gloucester, Aviva Premiership, September 4
Saints and Gloucester eye winning start
September 2, 2011
Northampton Saints' Paul Doran-Jones will line-up against former side on Sunday © Getty Images
Northampton and Gloucester will both be out to kick start their Premiership campaigns in a crucial early season clash at Franklin's gardens on Sunday.
The Saints were edged out on two fronts last season with their quest for Heineken Cup glory ended in heart-breaking fashion by Leinster while Leicester sent them packing in the final four of the Premiership. The Cherry and Whites tasted glory in the Anglo-Welsh Cup last season but that will have done little to ease the disappointment of their Premiership semi-final defeat to Saracens.
As a result both sides have something to prove heading into the new season but they find themselves in very different places on the eve of the campaign. The Saints have bolstered their ranks with the signings of proven Premiership quality in the guise of Noah Cato, Ryan Lamb, Tom May and Paul Doran-Jones. But they must struggle through the first few weeks of the season without many familiar key personnel with front-row tyros Dylan Hartley and Soane Tonga'uiha however among those on World Cup duty in New Zealand.
Gloucester have lost a host of stellar names in more dramatic fashion with Doran-Jones, Dave Attwood and Nicky Robinson all heading for pastures new. In the past they have recruited international players in like-for-like deals but this time have opted for youngsters in a bid to cut the wage bill. However, they remain a talent-heavy squad and will hope to benefit from what was a gruelling campaign last time out.
Northampton Saints - Player to Watch: With Soane Tonga'uiha on Rugby World Cup duty, Paul Doran Jones is tasked with filling his sizeable boots. Is the England international up to the task?
Northampton Saints- Team News: Five of the Saints' new signings make their full club debut with Tom May, Noah Cato, Martin Roberts, Paul Doran Jones and Samu Manoa all set to start the match, with three more possible debutants, Mike Haywood, James Craig and Ryan Lamb, named on the replacements bench.
Gloucester- Player to Watch: Winger Charlie Sharples was considered unlucky by many to miss out on England's World Cup squad but a series of eye-catching displays and an injury or two could see him yet grace the tournament in New Zealand.
Gloucester- Team News: Peter Buxton will captain the Cherry and White with Jonny May lining up in the midfield alongside Lesley Vainikolo who gets an outing at inside centre. The back three is a familiar one in the shape of Olly Morgan, Sharples and James Simpson-Daniel while Tim Taylor gets the nod to start at fly-half outside Dave Lewis. Summer signing Dario Chistolini will make his first Premiership start at tight-head, packing down in a front row which also features Nick Wood and Darren Dawidiuk while there is plenty of experience in the back five. Of note amongst the replacements is hooker Nathan Charles who arrived in the country this week having signed a short term deal from the Western Force.
Key Battle: Gloucester's back division is packed with talent and pace but will they see enough of the ball to wreak havoc? That depends on the Cherry and Whites' pack to stand toe-to-toe with a Saints forward unit that usually packs a punch but has a new-look for the new season.
Trivia: Gloucester did the double over the Saints last term for the first time since 2006-07.
Stats: Northampton Saints have won their Premiership opener for the past four years.
"Bryan Redpath is a good coach and he has some talented players available to him who have the ability to pose us plenty of problems. So we will need to be switched on and concentrate from the first whistle."
"We've got nine players unavailable because of internationals and long term injuries but we've got to get on with it. The players who are coming in are more than capable of competing."
Prediction: Despite being stripped of a host of key names, expect the memory of last season's agony to propel Saints to a convincing victory.
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