Wasps out to halt Saints' march
October 22, 2010
Wasps' Tom Rees is shackled by the Northampton defence during their clash at Franklin's Gardens earlier this year © Getty Images
Wasps will be out to derail Northampton's season when the two sides go head-to-head at Adams Park on Sunday.
The Saints enter the clash hot on the heels of Premiership leaders London Irish and on the back of two Heineken Cup victories that underlined their strong start to the campaign. Wasps have struggled for the same kind of consistency although victories over Leicester in the league and most recently Glasgow on the European stage illustrate that the hosts remain a potent threat.
Just five points separated the sides on the two occasions they met in the league last season and another close contest is on the cards this time around.
Wasps - Player to Watch: Wasps captain Tom Rees may not have been at his best this season but the lure of the England No.7 shirt against the All Blacks could prove a significant incentive.
Wasps - Team News: Mark van Gisbergen comes in at fullback for Richard Haughton, ruled out with a chest injury, while Dom Waldouck trades places on the bench with Ben Jacobs. Tim Payne returns to the front row, forcing Charlie Beech to the bench, and Dan Ward-Smith moves from the back row to partner Simon Shaw in the second row. He replaces Richard Birkett who sustained a broken nose in last week's European clash. Joe Worsley comes in for Ward-Smith and partners skipper Rees, back in the fray after recovery from an ankle strain.
Northampton- Player to Watch: Fullback Ben Foden returns to the Saints' ranks and will be keen to keep his nose in front of London Irish's Delon Armitage in the race for the England No.15 shirt.
Northampton - Team News: There is just one change to the starting line-up that beat Edinburgh last weekend. Foden returns after sitting out the trip north for EPS requirements and comes in for Greig Tonks. Meanwhile, Tom Mercey comes onto the bench for Euan Murray.
Key Battle: The Wasps pack fronted up well in their most recent euro encounter but face a formidable challenge against a finely-tuned Northampton unit. The front row showdown between Wasps' Tim Payne, Rob Webber and Zak Taulafo and Saints' Soane Tonga'uiha, Dylan Hartley and Brian Mujati is set to decide the clash.
Trivia: Northampton's Ben Foden boasts a league-leading seven clean breaks so far this season.
Stats: The last six encounters between the two clubs have all been won by the home side on the day, while the Saints have never won in nine previous visits to Adams Park.
"This game is massive for us in terms of driving our place in the league and our focus is securing the result we need." - Wasps director of rugby Tony Hanks ups the ante ahead of kick off.
"Wasps are a tough proposition at Adams Park. They have a lot of experience and plenty of talent, and they have had some good results in Wycombe this season. They also came very close to beating Toulouse in France, so we know they are in good form too." - Northampton boss Jim Mallinder is wary of the hosts.
Fantasy: Wasps fly-half Dave Walder has already racked up over 50 points in the Premiership season so far and 18 points in his side's euro victory over Glasgow last weekend suggests the former Falcon is in great form. Time to shake up your ESPN Premiership Rugby Fantasy Game selection?
Prediction: Adams Park is set to play host to a titanic tussle that may live up to the high-scoring clash with Leicester last month - with one key difference. The away team takes the spoils.
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
The latest Week in Pictures brings you a selection of the best snaps from around the rugby world with scantily clad ladies, O'Driscoll and snow all featuring
"If I miss the first kick of the match, it shouldn't have any impact on the second. They are different entities." Tom Hamilton talks to Northampton Saints' Stephen Myler
It's time for those running Welsh rugby to stop trying to prevent its players heading to France and to start planning a future without them, writes Martin Williamson
Paul Eddison explains how the French sold English clubs down the river and why their domestic game will go from strength to strength