Waller warns of title backlash
Alex Waller has warned Northampton Saints to expect an Aviva Premiership title backlash at Saracens on Sunday.
Front-rower Waller believes Saracens will be gunning for revenge following Saints' extra-time 24-20 victory at Twickenham in June over the north Londoners that swiped the Premiership crown.
Waller's try stole the title from under Saracens' nose, guiding Jim Mallinder's men to their first league success, and now the 24-year-old is wary of Saracens' bid for payback when the sides meet at Allianz Park.
"Over the last five or six years this is a rivalry that is only getting healthier," said Waller.
"During that time both clubs have come up and established themselves as two of the best sides in the country, making the top four nearly every year and we have had some good battles.
"Both sides have had some tough losses and then obviously there is the final from last season.
"It is up there as the best moment of my career and there has been a lot said about it, mainly because it was such a brilliant and close game.
"Both teams will have that in the back of their minds so of course it is going to be a fiery one."
Saracens' stars talked freely about their grudge with Northampton ahead of last year's final, with hooker Schalk Brits conceding a niggly edge with Dylan Hartley.
Neither front-rowers are in club action this weekend as the sides meet for the first time since last term's Twickenham final, with Brits a long-term injury absentee and Hartley among a sizeable crew on international duty.
Table-toppers Northampton suffered a rare home defeat last weekend, losing out 24-18 to Exeter Chiefs.
James Wilson replaces the injured Tom Collins on the wing and James Craig slots in at lock, with Samu Manoa shifted to number eight and Ben Nutley on the bench.
Billy Vunipola slots back in for Saracens after being released from England duty, while Jim Hamilton starts at lock and Argentina prop Juan Figallo will aim to continue his impressive impact after long-term injury.
Ben Spencer starts at scrum-half with Richard Wigglesworth on England duty, partnering Charlie Hodgson in the half-back cordon.
England wing Chris Ashton is among those with Test experience in club action, but unlike Waller the former Northampton flyer attempted to play down the fierce rivalry between the two clubs.
Ashton claimed Saracens are more concerned with getting back to winning ways after last weekend's 21-21 draw at Leicester than gaining revenge for last term's final defeat.
"For the past couple of years Saracens and Northampton have been the top two sides, so it's always good to beat the best teams and that's what we're aiming to do on Sunday," said Ashton.
"There's a lot of motivation for us, but no more so than any other game.
"After last week's result against Leicester it doesn't matter who we are playing, we just want to get out there and win."
Freddie Burns will start Leicester's trip to London Welsh on Sunday, with Tommy Bell making his Premiership debut for the Tigers.
Wing Adam Thompstone makes his first league appearance of the season for Richard Cockerill's side against basement club Welsh, who have suffered seven straight league defeats following promotion.
Rugby League convert Elliot Kear takes a seat on the bench for Welsh following his midweek switch from Bradford Bulls.
Assistant coach Gordon Ross has laced his boots again in a bid to ease a midfield injury glut that has sidelined the likes of regular playmaker Olly Barkley.
Ross was instrumental in guiding Welsh back to the Premiership via the Championship play-offs last term and starts at fly-half, with Tom May at inside centre.