Aviva Premiership Preview: Northampton Saints take on London Irish at Franklin's Gardens
Last Updated: 19/04/14 11:56am
Second-placed Northampton will look to avoid sliding further down the Aviva Premiership table even when they take on London Irish at Franklin's Gardens on Sunday.
The Saints have suffered a run of three successive league defeats, ending a sequence of 11 consecutive victories dating back to October.
The three losses have been inflicted by play-off rivals Leicester, Sale and Saracens, who triumphed 28-24 Allianz Park last weekend.
Now they have three matches left to guarantee home advantage in the play-offs, with East midlands rivals Leicester challenging hard for second place.
Northampton's starting team shows three personnel changes after earning a late bonus point at Saracens last time out.
Kahn Fotuali'i comes in at scrum-half with the other two changes coming in the pack, with Phil Dowson and Sam Dickinson both starting alongside Tom Wood in the back row.
Meanwhile Calum Clark, who was named as the Player of the Month for March earlier this week, could make his one 100th first team appearance in just his fourth season at the club after being named on the replacements' bench.
Fly-half Shane Geraghty will captain London Irish against his former club.
Geraghty captains the side in the absence of George Skivington who misses the match with a back injury.
Marland Yarde replaces Topsy Ojo on the wing; Ojo fractured his jaw in the victory over Newcastle last weekend. James O'Connor has a hamstring injury and is replaced at full-back by Alex Lewington.
Matt Parr, Mike Mayhew and Leo Halavatau start in the front row for a second week with Kieran Low replacing Skivington in the second row to join Nic Rouse.
Gerard Ellis, who scored on his Aviva Premiership debut last week, will start in the back row with Blair Cowan and Ofisa Treviranus.
Tomas O'Leary and Geraghty will start at half back with Eamonn Sheridan and Fergus Mulchrone in the centre. Andrew Fenby, Yarde and Lewington make up the back three.
"We enjoyed a good win last weekend but have picked up a few injuries for our troubles," said Irish boss Brian Smith.
"The players stepping in know they have big shoes to fill. Northampton will be a step up this weekend; Franklins Gardens is always a tough place to go so we know we will have to be at our best to compete."
Northampton Saints: 15 Ben Foden, 14 Jamie Elliott, 13 George Pisi, 12 Luther Burrell, 11 George North, 10 Stephen Myler, 9 Kahn Fotuali'i, 1 Alex Waller, 2 Ross McMillan, 3 Salesi Ma'afu, 4 Samu Manoa, 5 Courtney Lawes, 6 Phil Dowson, 7 Tom Wood (c), 8 Sam Dickinson.
Replacements: 16 Matt Williams, 17 Ethan Waller, 18 Tom Mercey, 19 Calum Clark, 20 GJ Van Velze, 21 Lee Dickson, 22 Will Hooley, 23 James Wilson.
London Irish: 15 Alex Lewington, 14 Marland Yarde, 13 Fergus Mulchrone, 12 Eamonn Sheridan, 11 Andrew Fenby, 10 Shane Geraghty (c), 9 Tomas O'Leary, 1 Matt Parr, 2 Mike Mayhew, 3 Leo Halavatau, 4 Kieran Low, 5 Nic Rouse, 6 Blair Cowan, 7 Gerard Ellis, 8 Ofisa Treviranus.
Replacements: 16 Jimmy Stevens, 17 Johnny Harris, 18 Jamie Hagan, 19 Bryn Evans, 20 Jebb Sinclair, 21 Tom Homer, 22 Ian Humphreys, 23 Darren Allinson.
Aviva Premiership 2013/14 Round 20
Saracens strengthened their position at the top of the Aviva Premiership table with a 23-18 victory over Newcastle.
Bath first-team coach declined to criticise the referee for George Ford's yellow card during the win over Worcester.
Wasps moved into the European play-off spot with a 38-30 victory over Gloucester in the Aviva Premiership at Twickenham.