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Saints ready to define season

Northampton Saints are hunting a season-defining victory at Leinster on Saturday, according to scrum-half Lee Dickson.

Just a week after leaking six tries to the rampant Irishmen in 40-7 defeat at Franklin's Gardens, Northampton make the return trip to the Aviva Stadium.

At the halfway stage of Heineken Cup Pool One, Jim Mallinder's Saints sit third, already trailing leaders Leinster by eight points or two regulation victories.

England half-back Dickson is confident Northampton can produce a masterstroke turnaround victory in Dublin, though.

"The challenge is to turn our reaction into the making of our season," he told Press Association Sport.

"You can go one of two ways: You can think you're going over there to get beaten again, or you can really raise your game, stand up, be counted, have a bit of pride and show a bit of character, go over there and nullify the mistakes you made the previous week.

"There are three big games to come in the league after this weekend too.

"The big aim is to get to Christmas with one big foot in both competitions."

Leinster must do without Ireland's bullocking loosehead prop Cian Healy, who had ankle surgery this week and will be out for eight weeks.

Saints have named an unchanged backline, with Salesi Ma'afu replacing Tom Mercey at tighthead prop.

Samu Manoa shifts to number eight with Sam Dickinson taking a seat on the bench.

Northampton face Wasps, Bath and Harlequins in that Aviva Premiership schedule immediately following their Leinster return.

Dickson is under no illusions to the size of the task against Matt O'Connor's Leinster this weekend.

But the 28-year-old admitted Northampton will invoke the spirit of last season that saw them pull off a similar turnaround in a Heineken fortnight against Ulster.

Northampton lost out 25-6 to Ulster at Franklin's Gardens in December 2012, only to grind home 10-9 at Ravenhill a week later.

Dickson said character guided Saints' seven-day reversal this time last year, and must do so again now.

He said: "We can definitely draw on that from last season.

"You don't turn into a bad team overnight. We know we can beat big teams away from home.

"We can't let last week bring us down and put us into a hole.

"Four or five weeks ago we put 40 points on Saracens, and that's unheard of for them, so it's always about how you react."

Reigning Heineken Cup champions Toulon are unable to call on Springbok speed king Bryan Habana for their Stade Mayol clash with Exeter.

The World Cup-winning wing has had surgery on a thigh problem, and will not be fit until February.

Former England fly-half Jonny Wilkinson was impressed with Exeter's grit in Toulon's 14-9 pool two victory at Sandy Park last weekend.

The World Cup winner admitted Bernard Laporte's Toulon side must hit their peak to see off the Chiefs in the south of France.

"We know we have to prepare damn well, we've seen first-hand what they are capable of," Wilkinson told the official Heineken Cup website.

The former Newcastle Falcon will take a seat on the bench on Saturday, with ex-Australia playmaker Matt Giteau starting at fly-half.

Exeter have switched their half-back pairing, starting Haydn Thomas and Henry Slade in place of Gareth Steenson and Dave Lewis.

In pool three Saracens will hunt a second try bonus point win over Zebre in as many weeks at Allianz Park after their 39-10 victory in Italy last weekend.

Mark McCall's men benefited hugely from Connacht's famous 16-14 victory in Toulouse, to creep level on 10 points with the French pool leaders.

Connacht have named an unchanged back division to host Toulouse, with Jason Harris Wright and Rodney Ah You slotting into the front-row.

A home victory for Scarlets over last season's beaten finalists Clermont could shake up pool four, with just four points currently separating the two sides that meet in west Wales, Harlequins and Racing Metro.

Ulster travel to Italy to face pointless Treviso, fielding an unchanged line-up as they bid to maintain their pool-five lead.

Munster dispatched Catalan side Perpignan 36-8 in Limerick last weekend, but are acutely aware of the vastly different challenge that awaits at Stade Aime Giral.

Former Gloucester number eight Luke Narraway captains Perpignan, while Cathal Sheridan replaces injured British Lions scrum-half Conor Murray for Munster.


From Belfast Telegraph