Make or break for Saints and Leeds
May 6, 2011
Northampton's Phil Dowson is upended during his side's clash with Leeds back in March © Getty Images
Northampton and Leeds will go head-to-head at Franklin's Gardens on Saturday with the hosts looking to book their play-off place and the visitors desperate to avoid the drop.
The Saints enter the game fresh from booking their place in this season's Heineken Cup Final but there is little time to dwell on that success with the race for domestic honours intensifying. Jim Mallinder's side need a draw at least to cement their place in the top four and will be favourites for the clash having also accounted for Leeds 23-13 at Headingley back in March.
It's now or never for a desperate Leeds side who trail Newcastle by one point at the bottom of the table. If Worcester fail to claim the RFU Championship title and with it promotion, Leeds will be safe from relegation no matter the result of this game but Neil Back's side will be taking nothing for granted. Victory - they have only won four games this season and only one away from home - may still not be enough if the Falcons conjure a victory in their clash with Bath.
Northampton - Player to Watch: Prop Brian Mujati is one of three Saints players up for the Premiership Player of the Year honour - can he produce a timely reminder of his credentials?
Northampton - Team News: Joe Ansbro comes in to partner James Downey in midfield while Shane Geraghty and Stuart Commins will line-up at fly-half and scrum-half respectively. Alex Waller gets the nod at loose-head and will pack down next to hooker Brett Sharman. Mark Sorenson is drafted into the second row while Mark Easter is named at blindside.
Leeds - Player to Watch: Hooker Steve Thompson is on his way to Wasps at the end of the season - will he bow out with a bang or a whimper?
Leeds - Team News: With skipper Marco Wentzel ruled out with a calf injury, Kearnan Myall moves from the back-row to the second row in his final appearance for Leeds before he joins Sale next season. The back-row is shuffled with Rhys Oakley moving to blindside and Alfie To'oala coming in at No.8. Two more changes come in the front row with Mike MacDonald and Juan Gomez starting at prop with Gareth Hardy and Phil Swainston moving to the bench. Centre Scott Barrow comes in for Lachlan MacKay, who can not play because MacDonald and Gomez are the two overseas players in the line-up. Peter Wackett returns on the wing allowing Michael Stephenson to move back to fullback in place of Christian Lewis-Pratt, who moves to the bench to face his former club.
Key Battle: If Leeds are going to conjure a great escape they are going to have to secure more than their fair share of ball which means fronting up - and some. Cue a bruising forward battle on bone-hard ground.
Trivia: Saints have won their last five matches against Leeds in all competitions. Leeds' only previous victory was a 24-19 victory in the quarter-finals of the Powergen Cup in 2005.
Stats: Northampton winger Chris Ashton has scored nine Premiership tries this season - two less than Leicester's Alesana Tuilagi who is the competition leader.
"We've put in 21 games worth of really, really hard work and it would be a tremendous shame if we blew it on Saturday." - Saints boss Jim Mallinder
"We'll answer that after the weekend, that's where all my energy is at the moment and that's where everybody's energy is focussed, on doing all that we can at the weekend." - Leeds head coach Neil Back refuses to be drawn on his future
Fantasy: Saints fullback Ben Foden was amongst the tries last weekend and if he continues in that vein of form you may wish you had put him in your ESPNscrum Fantasy Rugby Game line-up.
Prediction: Leeds' hopes that Northampton will suffer from a Heineken Cup hangover to prove unfounded as the Saints book their place in the play-offs.
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