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Five changes for Saints ahead of European opener

Director of Rugby Phil Dowson makes five changes to his starting line-up as Northampton Saints prepare to head to Stade Rochelais this weekend, with Robbie Smith, David Ribbans, Aaron Hinkley, Tom James and Matt Proctor all coming into the side.

The men in Black, Green and Gold kick-off their Heineken Champions Cup campaign on the road, making a first-ever trip to the Stade Marcel-Deflandre for the Round 1 clash on Saturday (10 December, kick-off: 6.30pm local time). 

After lifting the Heineken Champions Cup last term, Saints’ hosts sit in fourth place in the Top 14 having won seven of their 12 outings so far this season – with five of those wins coming on home soil. 

Smith is one of four Northampton players set to make their Heineken Champions Cup debuts as he starts at hooker, with Alex Waller and Paul Hill packing down either side of the 24-year-old in the front row.

Lukhan Salakaia-Loto – also set for his European debut – makes his sixth consecutive start as he joins Ribbans in Saints’ engine room for only the second time this season.

Captain Lewis Ludlam shifts to No. 8 this weekend to lead the side out in La Rochelle, accompanying incoming Hinkley and England international Alex Coles in the back row.

James makes his third start of the season at scrum-half as he partners another Champions Cup debutant Fin Smith in the half-back berths, with Fraser Dingwall and Proctor lining up outside them in the centres. 

James Ramm makes his first European appearance as he mans Saints’ wings with Tommy Freeman for the second week running, while George Furbank completes the back three at fullback. 

Amongst the replacements, there is a return from injury for Courtney Lawes – while the likes of Emmanuel Iyogun, Angus Scott-Young, Alex Mitchell and Rory Hutchinson are set to make an impact from the bench.

Heineken Champions Cup, Round 1
Saturday 10 December 2022
Stade Marcel-Deflandre
Kick-off: 6.30pm (local time)

15 George Furbank
14 James Ramm
13 Matt Proctor
12 Fraser Dingwall
11 Tommy Freeman
10 Fin Smith
9 Tom James

1 Alex Waller
2 Robbie Smith 
3 Paul Hill
4 Lukhan Salakaia-Loto
5 David Ribbans
6 Alex Coles
7 Aaron Hinkley
8 Lewis Ludlam (c)

16 Sam Matavesi
17 Emmanuel Iyogun
18 Ehren Painter
19 Courtney Lawes
20 Angus Scott-Young
21 Juarno Augustus
22 Alex Mitchell
23 Rory Hutchinson

Not considered for selection:
Matthew Arden, James Fish, Sam Graham, James Grayson, Mike Haywood, Geordie Irvine, Tom Lockett and Ollie Sleightholme.

Referee: Andrew Brace (Ireland)
Assistant referees: Peter Martin (Ireland) and Oisin Quinn (Ireland)
TMO: Brian MacNeice (Ireland)

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