It’s top vs bottom at Franklin’s Garden on Saturday lunch time and I’m expecting a few fireworks from both sides before the Six Nations break.
It’s been a challenging season for the Falcons to date, with no wins in the Premiership and a recent change in their coaching staff. Perhaps it’s no surprise that Steve Diamond came in and Falcons immediately picked up their first win of the season in their Challenge Cup game last week away at Perpignan. We’ll have to see if this was where their fortunes changed this season.
Saints on the other hand are in exceptional form and have won nine games in a row in all competitions. With Harlequins losing vs Tigers last night, they have the ability to extend their lead at the top. They’ll have to do it without their England contingent but they have the depth who are ready to stand in.
Saints lose seven players to England duty, including half backs Mitchell and Fin Smith, but they still have plenty of weapons across the park. James is very capable deputy at 9 and Savala is still young but will direct traffic around from 10. Hutchinson moves back to 15 and Hamer-Webb comes straight onto the wing after arriving mid-season from Bath. Saints still have a strong pack too and can consider themselves fortunate to have the luxury of naming Lawes and Ludlam in their back row. Fijian International Sam Matavesi comes into Hooker with Curtis Langdon suspended after his red card vs Munster.
Falcons only have the one England inclusion in Blamire, so they are less affected than Saints are. They also can count on a few returning players in Captain Chick, speedster Radwan and impressive young flanker Pepper, meaning it’s not far off Newcastle’s full strength side. They seemed to play with a little more freedom last week, scoring 32 points in France, so I’m expecting see some confidence come from that.
Northampton Saints are 1/11 for the win, with a victory for Newcastle Falcons at 8/1 and the tie at 33/1.
Total Points - Over 58.5 @ 5/6
Excluding the match up at Kingston Park in the howling wind and rain, the recent H2H's between these sides have been high-scoring affairs and I’m expecting to see that again today. Saints have enough quality even without their England contingent to score 5/6 tries today, but I also see Newcastle scoring some tries themselves. Louie Johnson is also strong from the tee so that should help the scoreboard tick over.
The other reason I like overs today – even if the line is quite high – is the referee appointment of Sara Cox. Sara is an overs ref and averages 56 points per game. She lets the game flow well and seems to punish defending teams for infringements more than attacking teams. Conditions are good in the Midlands with no rain forecasted, plus the Franklin’s Gardens pitch is widely known as one of the fastest pitches on the circuit.
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