French fancy Steve Thompson

Steve Thompson will lead Northampton into Heineken Cup battle against Biarritz on Sunday amid increasing speculation he could play French Championship rugby next season.

The England hooker, a World Cup winner in 2003, still has two years remaining on his existing Northampton contract.

But he is known to be keen on a move across the Channel – for lifestyle, as much as rugby reasons – with Brive and Toulouse heading the queue of possible destinations.

Thompson’s immediate priority is for Northampton to secure a quarter-final place, which they would guarantee by completing a hat-trick of Heineken Cup home victories over Biarritz, having beaten them in 2000/1 and 2002/3.

A losing bonus point could even be enough for Saints as one of two best runners-up across all six pools, but head coach Paul Grayson said: “The focus is on winning the game.

“We are going out to maintain our home record against Biarritz. We could go out there, score four tries and shut them out to top the table.

“I am not saying that is impossible or very probable, but we are going out to play and win.”

Centre David Quinlan has recovered from a hand injury to partner Ben Cohen in midfield, but prop Tom Smith is sidelined due to a sore wrist, meaning a chance in the front-row for Chris Budgen alongside Thompson and Pat Barnard.

Grayson added: “It would be nice to make it three out of three against Biarritz at home.

“I have played in some good victories against them, and I know what we do on the pitch reflects how much noise comes out of the stands.”

365 Digital

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