Saints hoping to march on
April 29, 2011
Northampton defeated Ulster to reach the last eight © Getty Images
Northampton return to stadium:mk on Sunday for a titanic Heineken Cup semi-final against French giants Perpignan.
The champions of 2000 are currently unbeaten in this season's tournament, with their 23-13 victory over Ulster in the quarter-final keeping the streak alive.
Perpignan, beaten finalists in 2003, will be hoping to guard against complacency after seeing off Toulon 29-25 in dramatic circumstances at the Olympic Stadium in Barcelona last time out, although they have never beaten an English side away from home.
Northampton - Player to Watch: After a small dip in form towards the end of the Six Nations, Chris Ashton has rediscovered the scoring touch. In a game featuring two heavyweight packs the England winger will need to be firing should any chances come his way.
Northampton - Team News: Tom Wood is missing from the Saints' back-row due to injury, with the England flanker's place going to Phil Dowson, who shifts to openside in order to accommodate Calum Clark at No.6. Lee Dickson and Stephen Myler are paired at halfback while the front-row of Soane Tonga'uiha, Dylan Hartley and Brian Mujati will be in action.
Perpignan - Player to Watch: The game is likely to be nip and tuck, placing added strain on the shoulders of fullback Jerome Porical's goal-kicking. An off day in front of the posts could prove to be the deciding factor, with Myler also a hit and miss performer.
Perpignan - Team News: Nicolas Laharrague starts at 10, with Gavin Hume joining David Marty in the centre, while in the back-row Damien Chouly starts at No.8 with Bertrand Guiry at openside and Gregory Le Corvec at No.6. Up front, former England, and Leicester, prop Perry Freshwater is joined by Guilhem Guirado and Nicolas Mas.
Key Battle: The respective front-rows will want to get the edge on their rivals, with the Saints' ability to deal with Perpignan's primary weapon set to be a compelling factor.
Trivia: Perpignan are the only team in this season's semi-finals not to have won top prize. Toulouse have won the Heineken Cup on four occasions, with one title apiece for Northampton and Leinster.
Stats: The Saints' unbeaten run could land them in the record books if they make it to the final in Cardiff - no team has completed a Heineken Cup season with nine wins from nine.
"We were beaten by Munster in the Heineken Cup quarter-finals in Limerick and lost at home to Saracens in the Premiership semi-finals. It was a bitter pill to swallow and we are determined not to fall like that again." - Northampton fullback Ben Foden reflects on events of 12 months ago.
"Our draw at Leicester [22-22, in their pool match on December 18] balances the books a bit. We know we can do it." - Perpignan coach Jacques Brunel.
Prediction: With home advantage and a pack that can go toe-to-toe with the monsters of Perpignan, the Saints should take this one.
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