Northampton v Harlequins, Aviva Premiership
Saints take on resurgent Quins
December 31, 2010
Scrum-half Danny Care in action for Harlequins during their victory over London Irish earlier this week © Getty Images
League leaders Northampton Saints return to the Aviva Premiership stage on New Year's Day with Harlequins providing the opposition at Franklin's Gardens.
The Saints' have seen their last two Premiership outings fall to the recent wintry weather and their last league clash was a victory over London Irish at the end of the November. They have since bolstered their Heineken Cup challenge but remain short of game time as they look to cement their place at the top of the table.
Harlequins returned to winning ways on earlier this week - also against London Irish - in front of 74,000 to make it six wins in their last eight games. But they face a stiff challenge against a Saints side fresh from a lengthy lay-off and determined to preserve their formidable home record.
Northampton Saints - Player to Watch: Loose-head prop Soane Tonga'uiha has been usurped at the top of this season's leading Premiership tryscorers to expect to see him leading the charge to the Quins line.
Northampton Saints - Team News: Scrum-half Lee Dickson returns to the starting XV with Ryan Powell dropping to the bench in the only change to the side that beat Cardiff Blues in the Heineken Cup earlier this month. Dylan Hartley continues to lead the side from hooker alongside front row anchors Tonga'uiha and Brian Mujati.
Harlequins - Player to Watch: Winger Ugo Monye returned to the Quins line-up last time out after a lengthy injury lay-off and earned rich praise from boss Conor O'Shea - expect him to kick on against Saints.
Harlequins - Team News: Quins keep faith with the majority of the side that beat the Exiles. The only changes to the side are seen in the pack. Tom Guest, having recovered from his injury picked up against Connacht, returns to the back row alongside Chris Robshaw and Nick Easter, with Will Skinner dropping to the bench. Joe Gray is rested, with Matt Cairns starting in the no.2 shirt and Chris Brooker coming onto the bench.
Key Battle: The battle between the No.8s - Northampton's Roger Wilson and Quins' Nick Easter - will be worth the admission price alone. Brains and braun in abundance.
Trivia: Northampton have lost only one out of 15 games so far this season, and are just one win away from qualifying for the quarter-finals of the Heineken Cup
Stats: Quins are win-less in their last 11 Premiership away games since their 30-27 victory over Leeds Carnegie on December 4, 2009.
"Harlequins are in a false position in the league. They've been very competitive this season and could have won several more games, including our trip to the Stoop in September." - Sains boss Jim Mallinder is wary of Quins
"With 15 games to go - and hopefully more if we progress - we are looking in pretty good shape." - Director of rugby Conor O'Shea is buoyed by his side's recent form.
Fantasy: The Quins back row of Tom Guest, Chris Robshaw and Nick Easter have racked up a total of 106 Fantasy points this season - time to change your ESPNscrum Fantasy Rugby line-up?
Prediction: Expect Saints to start the New Year on a winning note and dent Quins' push for the play-offs.
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