7 Jun, 15:39
ERC can confirm that the Federation Française de Rugby (FFR) has withdrawn its application to host the 2014 Heineken Cup and Amlin Challenge Cup finals, due to the ongoing uncertainty regarding the availability of the Stade de France.
Head coach Wayne Smith said: 'We have been using Wanderers' games seriously for people to play themselves into the Saints side. John Clarke has done that a couple of times and Ripol's last two performances have been outstanding. He was sharp and electric; so he gets his opportunity.' Another selection change has been the inclusion of fly-half Shane Drahm ahead of Paul Grayson, who kicked 21 points in last weekend's win over London Irish at the Madejski Stadium. Smith said: 'It was a tough call between Drahm and Grayson.
You have got to be careful that you do not play one at the expense of the other not getting enough games. In this instance we are going to have to rotate them a bit, but it's really horses for courses as well. We needed Grayson's kicking game at Madejski.'
A further tough call was the choice between scrum-halves Matt Dawson and Mark Robinson. Dawson gets the nod this week, as long as he passes a fitness test on Friday, to give Robinson a week's rest.
'This was an opportunity to give Sharky (Robinson) a rest,' said Smith.
'But if Dawson does not get through his fitness test, Sharky will come in onto the bench. Sharky, and Chris Hyndman, have been belted during the past couple of weeks.'
Saturday's game will see a reunion of former All Blacks coaches Smith and The Borders' Tony Gilbert. Both will want to win this Heineken Cup encounter.
Smith concluded: 'We first coached against each other in the Super 12s and we had some huge battles. We then teamed up for the All Blacks. Tony is a man I really respect. He is full of integrity and wisdom, but I do not want him to get one up on us. I am competitive and I want my team to beat his team.'
Northampton Saints: 15 Nick Beal 14 Oriol Ripol 13 Bruce Reihana 12 John Leslie (Capt) 11 Ben Cohen 10 Shane Drahm 9 Matt Dawson* 1 Tom Smith 2 Steve Thompson 3 Robbie Morris 4 Matt Lord 5 Mark Connors 6 Andrew Blowers 7 Darren Fox 8 Grant Seely 16 Dan Richmond 17 Chris Budgen 18 Mark Soden 19 Brett Sturgess* 20 Johnny Howard 21 Mark Tucker 22 Paul Grayson
* Dependent On Passing Fitness Tests On Friday