Bath Rugby v Northampton Saints preview

Bath Rugby welcome back Matt Banahan, David Wilson and Lewis Moody to the match-day twenty-three for this weekend’s clash against Northampton Saints.

Having been released by England, Banahan comes into the starting line-up, with Wilson lining up on the bench. Moody also takes a place on the bench for his first game since being injured in the Heineken Cup victory over Aironi Rugby in January.

Nick Abendanon, fresh from his try scoring appearance on the wing last Friday against Sale Sharks, returns to full back, with Tom Biggs joining Banahan on the wing. Matt Carraro and Olly Barkley once again link up in the centres, and Butch James and Michael Claassens continue their half back partnership.

Up front, David Flatman, Lee Mears and Duncan Bell provide power in the front row, with Stuart Hooper and Danny Grewcock supporting from the second row. Ben Skirving, Luke Watson and Simon Taylor complete the scrum.

Head Coach, Steve Meehan, reflects on last weekend’s victory away to Sale Sharks, Bath’s third on the bounce in the Premiership, and ahead to the challenge posed by Northampton.

“We were delighted with the result. We have won the last two of our three Premiership games on the road, which is very pleasing, and we are starting to play with the ability and confidence we know we have, so if we can continue that it will be good.

“We put in a very professional performance and put a lot of pressure on the opposition, taking our opportunities and penalties when they came. Michael Claassens, Butch James and Olly Barkley all kicked well out of hand, and we had a strong defensive line that followed off the back of a decent line out and very strong scrum – all in all it was a very good team performance in difficult conditions.

“This game against Saints is a very big game for us. We were disappointed with the performance earlier in the season at Franklin’s Gardens, so we have been looking forward to this fixture. They have been playing well for the last couple of seasons, so can’t be underestimated. It’s not going to be easy but it’s certainly a challenge we’re looking forward to.”

“We are confident we can replicate last year’s success. There’s not been any sign of panic, everyone’s very calm and composed, and I think the experience was good for us. If we can keep everyone enjoying training, motivated and fit, we’ll be in with a good shout every week.”

Bath Rugby have won six of their last seven matches in all competitions, and have not lost in Aviva Premiership Rugby since Wasps visited The Rec on 27 November.

Northampton Saints have begun 2011 with three straight defeats in the Premiership. The Saints’ most recent Premiership away victory came on 19 November with a visit to Sale Sharks.

The last four encounters between the two clubs have all been won by the home side on the day, whilst Bath have not beaten Northampton at Franklin’s Gardens since 22 April 2000, although they did beat Saracens there, 37-30, in the Premiership on 6 November 2004.

Northampton Saints Director of rugby Jim Mallinder says that his players are in a good frame of mind and are determined to bring home a positive result from the west country.

“There were positives to take away from last week, but there were plenty of things to work on as well,” Mallinder said.

“Last Saturday’s game showed that we still have development to make as a team and we have to learn the lessons from the defeat.

“There is no better time to do that than in a tough game like we will have on Saturday. The Rec is a difficult place to play, and Bath are in good form at the moment.

“They have an experienced front five who showed how well they can play in last week’s win at Sale. Bath also have a strong axis at nine, 10 and 12 and good finishers out wide, so we will have to be at our best to get a positive result.

“We are certainly going into the game in a posit

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