James Haskell, David Ribbans and Alex Waller are among seven changes to Northampton Saints’ starting XV this weekend as the side take on Bath Rugby.
The men in Black, Green and Gold will lock horns with the West Country outfit on home soil this Saturday (kick-off 2.45pm), having won their last six home matches in all competitions.
Chris Boyd’s side have lost just once in the Gallagher Premiership at Franklin’s Gardens since September, and are coming off the back of their second-largest victory in the league’s history after running in nine tries last time out against Sale Sharks.
Club captain Waller returns to the starting line-up and leads the side within a completely new-look front row, with Reece Marshall and Paul Hill also selected by Boyd from the outset.
After recovering from illness Ribbans is recalled in the engine room alongside Fiji’s Api Ratuniyarawa, and while Lewis Ludlam and Tom Wood keep their places in Northampton’s back row, flanker Haskell comes in to start his first game since October.
Despite ringing the changes in the pack, Boyd has stuck with largely the same back-line that put Sale to the sword last week.
George Furbank continues at fullback while Ahsee Tuala and Taqele Naiyaravoro complete the back three, with Rory Hutchinson and Piers Francis in the midfield together for the second week running.
But there are changes in the half-back axis with scrum-half Alex Mitchell starting his first league match of the season, and outside him fly-half James Grayson returns after winning the Premiership Rugby Cup’s Breakthrough Player of the Season award earlier this week.
“We want to give all of our guys opportunities and you’ve got to be able to put your faith in your entire squad, so we’ve picked the team that we think is the right team to play against Bath,” said Boyd.
“One swallow doesn’t make a summer and we’re not quite seeing the consistency in our performances yet – things went our way last week and we capitalised pretty well, but you have to do it three or four times before you can say that the penny’s dropped.
“We have a template that everyone is starting to feel confident and relaxed within, so as long as we stick to the processes we want we can take advantage of our opportunities this weekend.”
NORTHAMPTON SAINTS v BATH RUGBY
Gallagher Premiership Rugby, round 14
Saturday 23 February 2019
15 George Furbank
14 Ahsee Tuala
13 Rory Hutchinson
12 Piers Francis
11 Taqele Naiyaravoro
10 James Grayson
9 Alex Mitchell
1 Alex Waller (c)
2 Reece Marshall
3 Paul Hill
4 David Ribbans
5 Api Ratuniyarawa
6 James Haskell
7 Lewis Ludlam
8 Tom Wood
16 James Fish
17 Francois Van Wyk
18 Ben Franks
19 Alex Moon
20 Jamie Gibson
21 Cobus Reinach
22 Luther Burrell
23 Ken Pisi
Not available for selection:
Andy Symons (knee), Harry Mallinder (knee), Tom Emery (shoulder), Mikey Haywood (knee), Dylan Hartley (knee), Teimana Harrison (hamstring), Ehren Painter (illness), and Mitch Eadie (hamstring).