Saints and Tigers set for battle
September 3, 2010
Leicester's Anthony Allen is tackled by Northampton's Juandre Kruger during their clash earlier this year © Getty Images
Leicester Tigers will begin the defence of their Premiership crown with a quiet little affair against fierce East Midlands rivals Northampton at Franklin's Gardens.
The mouth-watering match-up between two sides destined to be in the mix come the end of the season should provide an early indicator as to who may get their hands on the sizeable Premiership silverware. The Saints' home ground was something of a fortress for much of last season until a Saracens-sized wrecking ball came swinging through and the home side may see this as an opportunity to show just what could have been had they reached last season's final.
Leicester's consistency is legendary and they will relish an early season opportunity to get one over on their title rivals with the chance that some pre-season rust could hinder the Saints' crowd-pleasing affinity for attacking rugby. But the Tigers can call on an impressive armoury of their own so expect fireworks in one form or another.
Northampton - Player to Watch: Winger Chris Ashton scored tries for fun last season with 16 tries in 20 Premiership appearances. That form catapulted him into the international ranks - but can he rediscover his touch this term?
Northampton - Team News: A settled looking Saints side will take the field at Franklin's Gardens featuring the likes of Ashton, Ben Foden, Phil Dowson, Courtney Lawes and Soane Tonga'uiha.
Leicester - Player to Watch: Winger Alesana Tuilagi has been amongst the tries in pre-season including a brace against Munster and is looking hungry for more.
Leicester - Team News: Leicester have handed debuts to summer signings George Skivington and Thomas Waldrom in a starting XV that includes nine of the players who started the Premiership Final in May.
Key Battle: The battle up front is set to be ferocious with Northampton's Soane Tonga'uiha, Dylan Hartley and Brian Mujati set to go eyeball-eyeball with Leicester's Marcus Ayerza, George Chuter and Martin Castrogiovanni. You might find yourself watching this one through your fingers.
Trivia: The defending Premiership champion club have lost their opening game of the following season in three of the last four years. The last four encounters between the two teams in the Premiership have all been won by the home side on the day
Stats: Northampton Saints have lost their opening Premiership game just once since 2002 - a 32-0 reverse at the hands of Leicester in 2005.
Odds: Leicester are 7/4 favourites with Bet365 to claim the Premiership glory once again but Northampton are hot on their heels at 7/2.
"We fell short last season and we know it. But we've now reflected on the season and we think it was one of improvement and actually a successful season for us." - Saints director of rugby Jim Mallinder
"We are going there for all four points and five if we can - but that is a big ask there. They are a good side and it's going to be a big clash." - Leicester boss Richard Cockerill
Fantasy: This weekend marks the start of the ESPN Premiership Rugby Fantasy Game so we can't give you an insight on key performers just yet - but we will. Have you entered your team yet?
Prediction: A titanic battle to start the season and it is shame that we will not see these sides going at it having ironed out the kinks in their game. Expect Northampton to straighten the 'Fortress' sign left hanging above Franklin's Gardens at the end of last season - but only just.
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