Saints to rest European Cup heroes
May 8, 2000
Northampton will go into Premiership battle against Wasps tomorrow night without almost their entire victorious Heineken Cup semi-final team.
Rugby director John Steele has given his European heroes, many of whom are carrying injuries, much-needed time to recuperate.
The hope is they can recharge batteries for another appointment with Wasps the Tetley's Bitter Cup final at Twickenham next Saturday.
Saints' three main fitness concerns skipper Pat Lam (shoulder), England captain Matt Dawson (shoulder) and wing Craig Moir (knee) are all expected to make the Cup final.
Only Wales Under-21 lock Andy Newman remains from yesterday's Madejski Stadium thriller while super-sub Paul Grayson, Saints' match-winner when they conquered Heineken Cup rivals Llanelli, is another likely starter. But Steele will otherwise select from a combination of fringe first-teamers.
Wasps, meanwhile, could be near to full strength with the likely exception of hooker Phil Greening, who is nursing a knee injury.
"Tomorrow's game is not ideal preparation for a cup final, having to play the same opponents just four days before it," admitted Saints coach Paul Larkin.
"We've got quite a few injuries from what was an extremely punishing semi-final against Llanelli and it is up to us to protect our players in order to get the best out of them.
"Apart from the injuries to Pat Lam, Matt Dawson and Craig Moir, we've got a number of players with strains, bruising and dead legs.
"But we are not under-estimating the match tomorrow. As far as both myself and John (Steele) are concerned, we will select from a squad who've all played first-team rugby."
Saints return to Premiership action barely 48 hours after Grayson's injury-time penalty broke Llanelli hearts and secured a first European final place for the midlanders.
Northampton, though, have four matches three league games and the Tetley's Bitter Cup final on their agenda before they can even contemplate tackling Munster at Twickenham later this month.
Saints have not won a Premiership fixture since beating Sale on March 25, suffering successive league losses against Harlequins, Bath and Leicester and slipping down the table as a result.
Currently fourth, Northampton probably need two more wins to be sure of top-flight European rugby next term, although automatic qualification awaits both the Tetley's Bitter Cup winners and Heineken Cup champions.
Twickenham success next weekend represents Wasps' best European prospect, given the six-point league deficit between themselves and sixth placed Bristol.
A Cup final dress rehearsal, though, coming just four days before the final itself, is indicative of another log jammed season finale.
"Having played five matches in 14 days last month, we've now gone 10 days without a game," said Wasps rugby director Nigel Melville.
"Our Cup final preparation has been totally ruined by tomorrow night's fixture, but the scheduling of it was not our decision."
English Rugby Partnership ruled that the game, originally planned for last Saturday, must be slotted in tomorrow under the Franklin's Gardens floodlights.
The latest Week in Pictures takes in a fiery East Midlands derby and all the action from the Aviva Premiership and Top 14
The rolling maul is becoming an increasingly potent attacking weapon. Conor O'Shea looks at the difficulties of stopping it
The news of James Horwill, Adam Ashley-Cooper and Dan Carter's respective transfers will open the floodgates, writes Tom Hamilton