Top two clash at Franklin's Gardens
September 16, 2010
Saints' Soane Tonga'uiha has started the season in rampaging form © Getty Images
Northampton Saints and Bath put their 100% records on the line as the Premiership's early pace setters battle it out for top spot in the table at Franklin's Gardens on Friday evening (ESPN, 7.00pm).
The Saints overcame reigning champions Leicester on the opening weekend and followed that up with a narrow victory over Harlequins at the Stoop to further underline their reputation as potential title challengers this season.
Bath have also begun the season with much promise, firstly beating Leeds after a long journey north and then closing out a London Irish side that had beaten last year's runners-up Saracens in their opening fixture.
Northampton - Player to Watch: Shane Geraghty has reclaimed the Saints fly-half shirt from Stephen Myler and will look to expose any holes in Bath's midfield defence.
Northampton - Team News: Northampton make just one change to their match day squad with Ryan Powell coming onto the bench in place of Stuart Commins.
Bath - Player to Watch: With the distribution skills of Ollie Barkley and Sam Vesty inside him, Shontayne Hape should have the time and space to take on Saints' outside backs.
Bath - Team News: Injuries picked up Matt Banahan, Simon Taylor, Lee Mears and David Flatman in Saturday's win over the Exiles mean that Tom Biggs, Andy Beattie, Pieter Dixon and David Barnes are all handed starts.
Key Battle: With both sides putting the emphasis on physicality rather than pace the back row battle should be intriguing with some of the Premiership's most competitive personalities on show.
Trivia: Franklin's Gardens hosts only its fifth Friday night Premiership game, in which Saints have been defeated just once: against the Tigers in April 2006.
Stats: Saints have won only one of their last five encounters with Bath. However, Bath have won only once at Franklin's Gardens in the Premiership, a 17-13 victory in April 2000
Odds: Bet365 have Northampton as 8/15 to win the game but perhaps a winning margin of 1-5 points at 9/2 is more tempting?
"Bath have started the season really well and deserve plenty of respect. They like to play the game the same way that we do, have a very strong set piece and backs who can break the defensive line. We had two very close games against them last season which went right down to the final whistle and it wouldn't be surprising if it was close again tomorrow night." - Saints director of rugby Jim Mallinder
"It's been a promising start and to get two wins out of two is testament to the hard work of the players. They have been two performances that showed a lot of character, and the guys should take full credit for that. - Bath defence coach Brad Davis
Fantasy: Soane Tonga'uiha is proving an excellent addition to any side with 14 points already - time to change your line-up? Get involved in the ESPN Premiership Rugby Fantasy Game now!
Prediction: Home advantage and some penetrative ball-carrying should prove just enough for the Saints to secure a narrow victory.
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