Director of Rugby Chris Boyd has made four changes to his Northampton Saints line-up for this weekend’s Gallagher Premiership semi-final against Leicester Tigers – with Juarno Augustus, Courtnall Skosan, Emmanuel Iyogun and Ehren Painter all set to start.
The men in Black, Green and Gold travel to Mattioli Woods Welford Road on Saturday afternoon (kick-off: 4.30pm) to lock horns with their East Midlands rivals for the first time in the knock-out stages of the competition since 2014.
Saints went on to win the title that year and come into the clash having won six of their least seven league matches (running in 40 tries in the process), but this time will have to topple the Premiership’s top-ranked side with Tigers unbeaten in their last 12 home league fixtures.
Northampton are appearing in their tenth Premiership semi-final match, also the third against their East Midlands rivals; both previous semis went with home field advantage, at Leicester in 2011 and cinch Stadium at Franklin’s Gardens in 2014.
Boyd largely sticks with the same back-line that ran in ten tries against Newcastle Falcons last time out, with Dan Biggar starting in the No.10 jersey to make his 50th Premiership appearance.
Alex Mitchell – statistically still the competition’s most-dangerous player with 24 try involvements (11 scores, 13 assists) so far this season – continues at scrum-half, while Rory Hutchinson again partners Fraser Dingwall in Saints’ midfield following his call-up to Scotland’s summer squad this week.
One change comes in the back three as Tommy Freeman – who boasts seven tries in his last five league appearances – shifts across to fullback to cover the unavailable George Furbank, clearing the way for Courtnall Skosan to join Matt Proctor on the wings.
There are three further changes for the men in Black, Green and Gold in the pack, with front row duo Emmanuel Iyogun and Ehren Painter coming into the line-up either side of hooker Sam Matavesi.
Alex Coles and Api Ratuniyarawa continue in Saints’ engine room for the fifth straight match, but following his return to fitness last weekend, Juarno Augustus returns to the Northampton back row in the No.8 jersey – meaning skipper Lewis Ludlam shifts to flanker to join England’s Courtney Lawes.
There’s plenty of experience amongst the visitors’ replacements with Alex Waller and Mike Haywood (two survivors from Saints’ 2014 league triumph) ready to make an impact off the bench alongside the likes of David Ribbans, James Grayson and Piers Francis.
“We’ve been in knockout mode for the last couple of months – but whenever you get to this point in any competition, the stakes go up, the margins for error get smaller, and the space to execute your game plan disappears,” said Boyd.
“So, we’ll have less time for our skill execution, physicality and decision-making, but we’ve worked hard on getting a higher level of consistency in our performance and we’re well prepared for the battle ahead of us.”
LEICESTER TIGERS vs NORTHAMPTON SAINTS
Gallagher Premiership Rugby, Semi-Final
Saturday 11 June 2022
Mattioli Woods Welford Road
15 Tommy Freeman
14 Matt Proctor
13 Fraser Dingwall
12 Rory Hutchinson
11 Courtnall Skosan
10 Dan Biggar
9 Alex Mitchell
1 Emmanuel Iyogun
2 Sam Matavesi
3 Ehren Painter
4 Alex Coles
5 Api Ratuniyarawa
6 Courtney Lawes
7 Lewis Ludlam (c)
8 Juarno Augustus
16 Mike Haywood
17 Alex Waller
18 Oisín Heffernan
19 David Ribbans
20 Aaron Hinkley
21 Tom James
22 James Grayson
23 Piers Francis
Not considered for selection:
Matthew Arden, Conor Carey, George Furbank, Teimana Harrison, Paul Hill, Ollie Newman, and Tom Wood.
Referee: Matthew Carley
Assistant referees: Craig Maxwell-Keys and Jack Makepeace
No.4: Dan Jones
TMO: Stuart Terheege