We all love European trips. Five star hotel, cocktails on a glorious sandy beach, swim up bars, local entertainment, fine Continental cuisine, a crystal clear blue sea shimmering beautifully on a sensational hot Sunny day, a 60 mile trip up the M1 to the Midlands....Ok it may not that exoctic, but the current defending European Champions, Saracens, start their tour and defense of the Champions Cup at their Saintly friends at Franklins Gardens on Sunday 15th October at 5.30pm.
This is the second time in as many months these two teams have faced off already this season with Saracens holding bragging rights after thumping Saints 55 - 24 on the opening weekend of the season at HQ. That result is totally irrelevant now though as since that defeat Saints have found some excellent form, and finishing the first quarter of the Premiership in 2nd place with four wins in six games, beating local rivals Leicester in that time frame also. Last time they narrowly lost to Gloucester at Kingsholm however Saints may have had one eye on this weekends European clash. Northampton Saints in Europe has mixed results, they won the European Champions Cup back in 2000 with a 9 - 8 victory over Irish province Munster back in the old Heineken cup format. Since then however there only real success in Europe has come in the Challenge Cup with two titles in 2008/09 and 2013/14. Their best result in recent years Champions Cup wise came in 2011 when they were runners up to Leinster. Saints held a 22 - 6 half time lead on the 21st May 2011 but ultimately ended up conceding 27 unanswered points to Leinster who broke Saints hearts winning 33 - 22. In the 2015/16 season Saints managed to reach the Quarter Final, only to be drawn against eventual champions, Saracens going down 29 - 20 at Allianz Park. Finally last season Saints had poor campaign by their standards only managing two wins from six pool games and crashing out finishing bottom of their pool. This season they are looking to improve on that and will be aiming for the knock out stages once again. Saints must have thought the Rugby God's were against them as they were drawn in pool 2 with Ospreys and last seasons finalists Saracens and Clermont. With the additional experience added to their squad and finding form at the right time Saints will be up for any challenge and hoping to make Franklins Gardens a fortress, and will look to pick up bonus points where ever possible to give them selves a chance of progressing this season, even though it may be slightly too much for them and they end up in 3rd overall from the pool of death. Only time will tell.
A potential Saints team could feature new signings van Wyk and Rob Horne and the returning Stephen Myler so the team may look like this :
Haywood, Van Wyk, Ford-Robinson, Day, Ludlam, Reinach, Myler, Francis
So onto Saracens, yet another electric start to what could be a special season for the Men in Black. Still classed possibly as the best team in Europe currently and sit very nicely perched top of the shop of the Aviva Premiership with five wins from six games, the only blip being a loss to Bath at the Rec in round two. Last time out Saracens swatted Wasps with barely getting out of third gear, they played simple rugby and make the game look easy, Wasps didn't appear to have turned up for the first 15 minutes which is a sin at this level as you will just get punished! Man of the match Jamie 'the Girth' George scored a Hat Trick helping Saracens claim a bonus point. Talks now about whether Jamie George should be England's number one number two over Dylan Hartley are now ever present, you can decide among yourselves who you believe should be the starting Hooker.
Saracens are looking to keep this tremendous European unbeaten streak going this weekend, and on recent form it could still continue, however that said it is very difficult place to go and win up at Franklins Gardens. Recent form speaks for itself for the current reigning European Champions. Saracens have had to overcome some top quality teams to achieve that success though, having to beat teams like Toulon, Munster, Glasgow, Racing 92, Scarlets, and Wasps, all who are capable of winning the top prize themselves and have all been successful over recent years. So for Saracens to go onto to lift a third successive title they will have to do it all over again, no simple task and it starts on Sunday. It's very unlikely that there will be a repeat of the 55 - 24 scoreline we saw earlier on in the season but Saracens should have enough experience to defeat an inform Saints team, the game will be won at the breakdown and set pieces and if Saracens control those then they will be tough to beat.
Word from Sarries DoR Mark McCall saying Maro Itoje will not be rested during the next fortnight a likely Saracens side could be:
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