Northampton's five to watch
1 COURTNEY LAWES At the risk of replicating the hype machine so prevalent within English rugby, it is fair to say that the second-rower did belatedly acquire some substance for an overly flattering reputation. The line-out controller, his carrying ability now backs up his formidable frame and he is a tackling demon.
2 TOM WOOD
That he was narrowly over-looked for the England captaincy indicates the measure of respect in which the back-rower is held by national coach Stuart Lancaster. His displays against France and New Zealand during the past 13 months emphasised his gritty, no-nonsense characteristics. A man for the trenches.
3 LEE DICKSON
The arrival of the impish Kahn Fotuali'i, one of the Pro12's outstanding performers when at Ospreys last season, has undoubtedly propelled Dickson to another level. His running game has improved and his tempo is much higher, aiding and abetting the Saints when they deploy their wide game. He can still boss his grunts to perfection too and is likely to remain England's first choice No 9 for the Six Nations.
4 DYLAN HARTLEY
Love him or hate him – and it may not take an elaborate opinion poll of Ireland supporters to delineate the answer – the charming hooker who skipped a Lions tour after telling a referee where to go is still a vital component of the Saints operation. Indeed, Jim Mallinder has made him captain and Hartley has responded in kind, while he has re-established himself as England's No 1 hooker. He remains a quality player, once his discipline can remain intact.
5 GEORGE NORTH
Mallinder has insisted that the barrelling Lions hero will not just "walk back into the side" after his try-scoring appearance for Wales against Australia last weekend, but the Saints' injury list militates against his exclusion. He has taken his time to settle in and only opened his scoring account in late September; the try against Sale is still his only five-pointer to date.