Fixture: Northampton Saints v London Irish
Competition: Premiership Rugby Cup, Round 1
Date: Saturday 13th November 2021
Stadium: cinch Stadium at Franklin’s Gardens
London Irish make their second trip of the season to the East Midlands to take on Northampton Saints in the opening round of the Premiership Rugby Cup on Saturday.
Declan Kidney’s men narrowly missed out on a victory in their league outing at the cinch Stadium at Franklin’s Gardens back in October, going down 23-21 in a keenly-fought contest.
This Saturday’s meeting will be the first between the two sides in the relatively recently-formed domestic Cup tournament.
Last year’s competition was cancelled owing to the pandemic, but Saints have history in this trophy, having won it three seasons ago, defeating Saracens 23-9 in the final.
Director of Rugby Chris Boyd will have to contend with ten international absentees from a plethora of different countries once again this weekend, following on from their 30-6 defeat to Sale Sharks in the Premiership last weekend.
Saints have only tasted victory once since they last hosted Irish, but find themselves on the periphery of the play-off places in fifth spot, trailing Exeter Chiefs – who occupy fourth spot – only on points difference.
The boss – Chris Boyd
Kiwi coach Chris Boyd joined as Saints Director of Rugby in the 2018/19 season following a historic spell in charge of the Hurricanes.
Boyd became the franchise’s most successful coach to date, boasting two New Zealand Conference titles and two Super Rugby finals appearances, winning the competition outright in his second term in charge in 2016.
Boyd’s storied experience in the game also includes coaching the New Zealand U20s, being an assistant to the Tongan national team during the 2011 World Cup, and coaching his hometown side Wellington Lions.
One to Watch – Connor Tupai
Chris Boyd was pleased with the way Connor Tupai and other youngsters ‘stood up’ to the challenge when brought on as replacements during Saints’ recent away loss to Sale Sharks.
Now, with a chance to impress in the division’s developmental tournament, the versatile 21 year-old will look to establish himself as next in the production line after England international Alex Mitchell.
Tupai – the son of former Saints player Paul – is a Northampton Academy product and has made 11 appearances in Black, Green and Gold; including two starting berths with his debut coming in the domestic Cup three seasons ago.
Classic Encounter – Northampton Saints 11, London Irish 13 – September 17th 2011 – Aviva Premiership
Toby Booth’s London Irish walked away with four points thanks to Tom Homer’s penalty kick at Franklin's Gardens.
The closely fought contest, which was only split by three points at the break, was Irish’s first win of the 2011/12 campaign, and couldn’t have arrived in more pulsating fashion.
Homer and former Exile Ryan Lamb traded kicks, before Nick Kennedy’s try in the second half gave Irish the initiative, with the ever-dominant Chris Hala’ufia’s line breaking instrumental in the build-up to the score.
Irish’s ill-discipline at the scrum saw a penalty try awarded and Steven Myler added the extras with the boot.
But it was visitors who would have the final say, Homer converting a late penalty awarded at the breakdown three minutes from time.
Tries: Penalty Try
Conversions: Steven Myler
Penalties: Ryan Lamb (2)
Tries: Nick Kennedy
Penalties: Tom Homer (3)
Saints’ Director of Rugby Chris Boyd credited the end product of last weekend’s hosts, Sale Sharks, in wake of their 30-6 loss at the AJ Bell Stadium.
“We chose to play downwind, and were 13-6 down at half-time, so the writing was on the wall then with their ability to control the set piece and the breakdown – although, I thought we played some of our better football in the second half going into the wind,” he said.
“We got a couple of things wrong inside their 22 that stopped us converting that territory and possession into points, so it was disappointing.
“Sale didn’t have too many more opportunities than us, but certainly converted them better than we did.”
Boyd also promised the inclusion of his Club’s young talent ahead of a fortnight of Premiership Rugby Cup fixtures.
“We have to look forward now to a Premiership Rugby Cup block where a lot of our youngsters, Academy players, and guys at the back end of our roster will get an opportunity,” he said.
“I’m looking forward to seeing some of the youngsters play, especially some of the first-year guys getting a run out for Saints for the first time.”
(Preview compiled by Ryan Fitzgerald-Nolan)