Added edge to a famous rivalry
May 13, 2011
Leicester's Thomas Waldrom is wrapped up during their win over the Saints in January © Getty Images
One of the English rugby's greatest rivalries will be rekindled on Saturday as Leicester host Northampton in a pivotal Aviva Premiership semi-final clash at Welford Road.
The Tigers finished the regular season on top of the pile after a thrilling comeback in their victory over London Irish, securing home advantage against their Heineken Cup Final-bound foes.
The Saints are on a good run of form but almost found their domestic campaign derailed last weekend by relegation candidates Leeds. A weakened outfit was put to the sword in the first-half only for the cavalry to arrive and safeguard a 31-24 victory and a spot in the play-offs.
The teams shared the spoils with a win apiece during the season, although the Saints have only won on their rivals' patch once since 2003.
Leicester - Player to Watch: Toby Flood has not been at his best in recent weeks and the England fly-half will need to be at his composed best when kicking from hand and from the tee if Leicester are to hold the Saints at bay.
Leicester - Team News: Jordan Crane returns to the back-row at No.8, with Thomas Waldrom dropping to the bench, while in the second-row, Steve Mafi returns to partner George Skivington.
Northampton - Player to Watch: Brian Mujati has been one of the most dominant props in the league this season. If he can get on top at the scrum it will be a majot psychological boost to the Saints.
Northampton - Team News: Veteran Kiwi Bruce Reihana has been entrusted with wing duties ahead of Paul Diggin and joins England duo Chris Ashton and Ben Foden in the back-three. In the continued absence of Premiership Player of the Season Tom Wood, Phil Dowson starts at openside and Calum Clark in the No.6 jersey.
Key Battle: Two heavyweight packs will slug it out and whoever wins the tight exchanges will come out on top. Both teams have sharp instruments out wide but the rough stuff is where this derby will be decided.
Trivia: Northampton have made the Premiership semi-finals on four occasions, but as yet have failed to progress to the final.
Stats: Leicester have won their last nine semi-final appearances in all competitions and secured a home-semi final in the Premiership in five of the last six seasons.
"Finishing top of the table shows we are a consistent side week in, week out. That is important for us, but now it all comes down to a semi-final and a big game against a Saints side which has proved to be one of the best in Europe this season." - Leicester director of rugby Richard Cockerill
"We are not going to Welford Road just to make up the numbers. We have played some good rugby in recent matches and are going into the game in good spirits. The players have prepared well this week and know that only their best performance will be good enough if we are to get a positive result against Leicester. - Saints boss Jim Mallinder
Prediction: It's all or nothing for Leicester and in front of their home fans they can derail a Saints side that has hit top form in recent weeks.
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
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