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Northampton Saints v Bayonne - teams and prediction

PREVIEW: Northampton Saints welcome Bayonne to Franklin Gardens in the Champions Cup on Friday.

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The men in Black, Green and Gold are unbeaten so far in their European campaign, securing impressive wins at both Glasgow Warriors and Toulon in the competition’s opening rounds.

Friday’s clash will mark the first time in the club’s history that the two teams have locked horns, with the French side – the pride of the French Basque community – heading to cinch Stadium at Franklin’s Gardens.

The home team have been in superb form this season and are currently top of this group with two wins.

George Furbank captains the side from fullback in the third round of the tournament, with Tommy Freeman returning to the starting XV to join Furbank and last weekend’s hat-trick scorer Ollie Sleightholme in Saints’ back three.

Fraser Dingwall starts on Friday alongside Rory Hutchinson – who scored the match-winning try in Exeter – in Northampton’s midfield, while Alex Mitchell and Fin Smith both start against Bayonne.

Alex Waller returns from injury to start in the front row alongside hooker Curtis Langdon and tighthead prop Trevor Davison, with Temo Mayanavanua and Alex Coles packing down behind them in the second row.

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Courtney Lawes – who claimed the Premiership Player of the Month award for December earlier this week – returns to Saints’ starting line-up at blindside flank against Bayonne, with Tom Pearson and Sam Graham also named in the back row (at openside flanker and No.8 respectively) to complete the starting XV.

Bayonne shocked the rugby world in the first round when they held Irish giants Munster to a draw at Thomond Park.

Northampton have never had a problem scoring points in the last few seasons but their Achilles heel has been their defence. They had the worst defence in the Premiership last season but all that has changed as they look a different side in defence.

The Saints will be brimming with confidence after they produced the comeback of the season in their last match against Exeter Chiefs.

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They were 0-26 down before they stormed back to win 42-36. The home team will be looking for a fast start from their explosive backline that includes the likes of George Furbank and Ollie Sleightholme. The latter was the hero in the last match with a hat trick of tries. The potent pack of the Saints coupled with their brilliant backline will probably swing this battle in the home side’s favour.

Bayonne may well send a weakened team as they rest their top players to concentrate on their Top 14 relegation battle.

Northampton Saints v Bayonne
(cinch Stadium @ Franklin’s Gardens, Northampton – Kick-off: 22.00 GMT)

Prediction

@rugby365com: Northampton Saints by 14

Teams:

Northampton Saints: 15 George Furbank (captain), 14 Ollie Sleightholme, 13 Tommy Freeman, 12 Fraser Dingwall, 11 George Hendy , 10 Fin Smith, 9 Alex Mitchell, 8 Sam Graham, 7 Angus Scott-Young, 6 Courtney Lawes, 5 Alex Moon, 4 Tom Lockett, 3 Paul Hill, 2 Curtis Langdon, 1 Alex Waller.
Replacements: 16 Sam Matavesi, 17 Emmanuel Iyogun, 18 Elliot Millar-Mills, 19 Alex Moon, 20 Juarno Augustus, 21 Angus Scott-Young, 22 Tom James, 23 Tom Litchfield

Bayonne: 15 Cheikh Tiberghien, 14 Bastien Pourailly, 13 Peyo Muscarditz, 12 Riko Buliruarua, 11 Rémy Baget, 10 Thomas Dolhagaray, 9 Maxime Machenaud, 8 Rodrigo Bruni, 7 Baptiste Heguy, 6 Pierre Huguet, 5 Kote Mikautadze, 4 Denis Marchois, 3 Tevita Tatafu, 2 Facundo Bosch, 1 Matis Perchaud.

Referee: Mike Adamson (Sco)
Assistant Referees: Ian Kenny (Sco), David Sutherland (Sco)
TMO: Hollie Davidson (Sco)

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