Saints and Irish set for top of the table clash
November 26, 2010
Will fly-half Stephen Myler steer the Saints to another victory at Franklin's Gardens © Getty Images
The top two teams in the Aviva Premiership table and the two top try-scoring clubs meet head on at Franklin's Gardens on Friday night.
Northampton Saints returned to the top of the table with a 19-10 victory over Sale on Friday and are unbeaten in their last eight games in all competitions. In contrast, London Irish slipped up 25-33 at Wasps on Sunday - the first time the Exiles had failed to record a league point in a Premiership game this season.
Saints weathered the loss of their international contingent with a hard-fought victory last time out and another could see them pull seven points clear at the top of the table. However, the Exiles will be seething having somehow managed to emerge from Adams Park with nothing for their efforts and no doubt determined to keep the pressure on their title rivals.
Northampton Saints - Player to Watch: Winger Jamie Elliott enjoyed a fairytale start to his Premiership career by scoring one try and creating another last weekend - but can he back it up?
Northampton Saints - Team News: Saints boss Jim Mallinder has reshuffled his back-row with Roger Wilson coming back into the side at No.8. As a result captain Phil Dowson move across to the blindside flank as Calum Clark drops out of the side. The Saints are also without England stars Ben Foden, Chris Ashton, Courtney Lawes and Dylan Hartley who will be lining up against South Africa at Twickenham on Saturday.
London Irish - Player to Watch: Considered surplus to requirements as far as England are concerned, fullback Delon Armitage has something to prove at Franklin's Gardens.
London Irish - Team News: The Exiles are boosted by the return of fullback Armitage and Romania international Paulica Ion comes in as tight-head prop while James Buckland returns at hooker. Centre Seilala Mapasua and No.8 George Stowers remain on international duty with Samoa.
Key Battle: Irish openside Steffon Armitage has been in impressive form of late but his opposite number Tom Wood is no slouch. Their quest to secure the ball and the support of their back-row colleagues will be pivotal in this clash.
Trivia: Northampton's top try-scorer this season is loose-head prop Soane Tonga'uiha, who has crossed the whitewash five times.
Stats: Northampton have won their last three encounters with London Irish, whilst the Exiles have not won at Franklin's Gardens since a 21-20 victory back in 2004.
"Their forwards and midfielders have been carrying the ball powerfully and their strike runners out wide have been scoring plenty of tries. We will certainly have to be focused right from the first whistle if we want a positive result." - Saints director of rugby Jim Mallinder
"Delon's return is our gain and England's loss this weekend - he's a fantastic player." - Exiles boss Toby Booth welcomes the return of Delon Armitage
Fantasy: London Irish winger Topsy Ojo has racked up 43 points in this season's Premiership while Northampton speedster Paul Diggin has 24 to his name - time to change your ESPNscrum Fantasy Game line-up?
Prediction: It is the shame that the scheduling means this mouth-watering fixture is robbed of some big names but that should not detract from the intensity of the contest. Very few teams come away from Franklin's Gardens with a win but an under-strength Saints side leaves them open to a smash and grab raid from the Exiles.
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