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James ready for Saints encounter

Paul James has dusted himself down for another top-of-the-bill heavyweight showdown on Saturday when Bath will aim to cement their credentials as major Aviva Premiership title contenders.

Fresh from inflicting Leicester's heaviest Premiership defeat - a 45-0 Recreation Ground drubbing six days ago - James and company have league champions Northampton in their sights.

Bath will arrive at Franklin's Gardens after collecting 14 points out of a possible 15 so far this season, scoring almost five tries per game in the process, but they have not beaten Northampton away from home since April 2003.

"We've been building for a couple of seasons, and we put a lot of pressure on ourselves in training throughout the week," Bath and Wales prop James told Press Association Sport.

"It is starting to come nicely, but we have got to make sure that last Saturday was not a one-off.

"It would be tough to beat that, to be honest. We knew Leicester would be a good team, so we knew we had to perform well on all fronts.

"If we can create fast ball up front for our backs, then we know what they can do.

"We came in this week and applied the pressure on ourselves again in training for what is a massive job in front of us at Northampton.

"You can't get too far ahead of yourself. You enjoy results like the Leicester one, but then you switch back on to the job ahead, which is a huge challenge this weekend.

"Northampton have been up there the last couple of seasons. It is probably coming at the right time for us - we are feeling good and things are going well - but it is down to us to make ourselves better."

Whatever happens on Saturday, life will not get any easier for Bath as last season's Premiership runners-up Saracens loom next Friday before an Adams Park appointment with Wasps, where Northampton came unstuck a fortnight ago.

"As a player, you want these tests. To have them in a block of fixtures, there is no way better to test yourself.

"It is the intensity of the Premiership, the physical battles. They just don't ease up. It is week in, week out."

While James and his fellow forwards have laid imposing foundations in the wins against Leicester, Sale Sharks and London Welsh, the form of 21-year-old George Ford has also proved instrumental to Bath's success.

The fly-half and England hopeful has already amassed 57 Premiership points this term, and James said: "George is class, in fairness.

"He is only a kid, but he just thrives on it. Nothing fazes him.

"He is not afraid to make mistakes and learn, and he is one of those players who is in your face all the time. That's what you need from your 10, somebody to drive you forward."

Bath boss Mike Ford has made two enforced changes from the Tigers romp, with wing Matt Banahan and flanker Carl Fearns both injured, so Olly Woodburn and Alafoti Fa'osiliva are their respective deputies. Saints, meanwhile, welcome back fly-half Stephen Myler, prop Alex Corbisiero and flanker Tom Wood.

England fly-half Owen Farrell misses Saracens' Allianz Park appointment with Sale Sharks on Saturday, and he is also set to sit out the trip to Bath next Friday night while he recovers from a thigh strain.

After the trip to Bath, Saracens host Premiership opponents Gloucester before launching their European Champions Cup campaign with demanding fixtures against Clermont Auvergne and Munster.

Sale visit Saracens after collecting points in all three of their games so far, even though the solitary victory was against rock-bottom London Welsh.

But the Saracens encounter launches a run of five testing games on the domestic and European stages, and Sale rugby director Steve Diamond knows his squad will be seriously tested.

"We come across five big teams in the next few weeks, and against them, errors we made against Welsh will be punished severely," Diamond said.

"We know we've got to improve, but we are glad after three games to have seven points.

"The next five weeks are massive for us, and the fans will relish the games against Saracens, Wasps, Northampton, Munster and Clermont Auvergne."

Sunday's Premiership action, meanwhile, sees Exeter - fresh from a 25-22 success at Gloucester - hosting Harlequins, with Wasps expected to make home advantage count against Newcastle.


From Belfast Telegraph