Northampton ready for Saracens test
Aviva Premiership leaders Northampton will put their unbeaten league record on the line when they tackle Saracens at Vicarage Road on Sunday.
But Saints boss Jim Mallinder believes his players have "massive motivation" for what could prove the most enthralling fixture among this season's early Premiership skirmishes. Saracens' 21-19 Premiership semi-final victory on Northampton soil four months ago took them to Twickenham for an appointment with Leicester, leaving Saints reflecting on what might have been.
"Last season's semi-final is a massive motivation for us," said Mallinder. "Obviously, we are in a new season and we have moved on, but you have to learn from the big games and use the experience in the future."
He added: "Both ourselves and Saracens have brought in players, but the core squads are still in place at both clubs and we have both started the season well.
"Saracens have a good team that will challenge us across the field. However, we have generated some good momentum in the past month and everyone in the squad will be putting in a massive effort on Sunday to try and continue this."
Northampton's 31-10 drubbing of Bath last time out left them with 13 points from a possible 15 to underline their credentials as serious title contenders.
Saints rest wing Chris Ashton, who suffered an injury during the Bath game, and lock Courtney Lawes under the England elite player squad arrangement, with wing Paul Diggin, centre Joe Ansbro, lock Mark Sorenson and back-row forward Calum Clark all featuring in a starting line-up skippered by hooker Dylan Hartley.
Saracens rugby director Brendan Venter, meanwhile, makes two enforced changes following a 26-14 win at Leeds last Sunday.
Full-back Alex Goode (shoulder) and back-row forward Justin Melck (ribs) are both out, with Nils Mordt handed the number 15 shirt and Kelly Brown replacing Melck. Lock Mouritz Botha also starts, replacing George Kruis.
Saracens are currently five points behind Northampton in fourth spot, having recovered from an opening weekend defeat against London Irish by beating Sale Sharks and Leeds.