Saints set for Sarries showdown
September 23, 2010
Northampton will be without ace winger Chris Ashton at Vicarage Road this weekend © Getty Images
Premiership pace-setters Northampton will put their unbeaten start to the new season on the line against Saracens at Vicarage Road on Sunday (ESPN, KO 3.00pm).
The Saints swept fellow high-flyers Bath aside 31-10 at The Rec last week to underline their title credentials while Saracens continued their fightback from an opening day reverse with a 26-14 win at Leeds.
Saracens recorded three Premiership victories over the Saints last season - including a memorable semi-final triumph - and home advantage would appear to give them the edge but Northampton have set the standard so far this term and will no doubt delight in the chance to exorcise a few ghosts.
Saracens - Player to Watch: Namibia skipper Jacques Burger has been one of the best performers in the Premiership so far this season, he starts on the Sarries' openside flank.
Saracens - Team News: With Alex Goode (shoulder) and Justin Melck (ribs) both having been ruled out through injury, there are starts for Nils Mordt and Kelly Brown at fullback and blindside flanker respectively. The only other change sees Mouritz Botha replace George Kruis in the second row.
Northampton Saints - Player to Watch: With Chris Ashton rested, fullback Ben Foden has centre stage all to himself this weekend.
Northampton Saints - Team News: Lock Mark Sorenson makes his senior debut for the Saints, while blindside flanker Calum Clark, winger Paul Diggin and centre Joe Ansbro have all been handed their first starts of the season. Ashton and Courtney Lawes have both been rested under the England Elite Player Squad agreement.
Key Battle: Sarries boss Brendan Venter was full of praise for his scrum following their victory over Leeds but they face a step up in class with a formidable Saints pack looking for their latest scalp.
Trivia: The first Premiership meeting of these two sides last year was the first club rugby union match to be staged at the new Wembley Stadium.
Stats: Table-topping Northampton have already made their best ever start to a Premiership season, whilst the only two occasions that they have won their opening three matches of a league campaign was when they went on to have perfect seasons, winning 18 out of 18 in Division Two in 1995-96 and winning 26 from 26 in National One in 2007-08.
Odds: Can the Saints make it four wins from four this weekend? They're 11/8 to continue their 100 percent record with Bet365.
"Northampton Saints have made a fantastic start to the campaign. They have been in great form this season and have the only unbeaten record in the Premiership, so this is a game that we are really looking forward to." - Saracens director of rugby Brendan Venter
"Last season's semi-final is a massive motivation for us. Obviously we're in a new season and we have moved on, but you have to learn from the big games and use the experience in the future." - Northampton boss Jim Mallinder
Fantasy: The Saints front-row has been scoring tries for fun this season and so has Saracens' hooker Schalk Brits. Check out the ESPN Premiership Rugby Fantasy Game now!
Prediction: A cracking game in prospect. The visitors are in fine form but the absences of Ashton and Lawes will result in them slipping to their first defeat of the season.