Ahsee Tuala believes Northampton Saints must target Harlequins’ ‘key man’ Ben Botica as both sides look to press their top-four credentials with five rounds remaining in Sunday’s Aviva Premiership Rugby showdown at Franklin’s Gardens.
Both sides suffered set-backs last weekend – Botica’s five penalties could not rescue Quins against a hungry Worcester Warriors side at the stoop, while Henry Slade inspired Exeter Chiefs to a second-half fightback that downed Saints at Sandy Park.
Both sides are within touching distance of fourth-placed Leicester Tigers, but Northampton edged a close encounter 27-23 at the Stoop in February and they have won three of their last four – including a shuddering 20-15 win away to the champions Saracens at Allianz Park
Sunday sees fifth versus sixth at Franklin’s Gardens and Tuala acknowledges that there is a great deal on the line for both sides, with Saints’ top-four hopes resting on shutting down kiwi Botica.
“Harlequins have a good side, they will probably be welcoming back all their internationals, but I think their key man is Ben Botica,” the Samoan international said.
“Once he gets a bit of confidence he carries their team around the park very well.
“We just need to concentrate on ourselves, they have good players across the board. They are strong team and there is a lot to play for.
“Any team which is coming from a loss is going to be more fired up for the following week, but we’re trying to make the top four and so are they, it is going to be a good physical game.
“If we win our home games we have a good chance, we are just looking forward to the challenge on Sunday.”
Jim Mallinder has the luxury of welcoming back internationals George North, Kieran Brookes and Dylan Hartley into the camp.
England captain Hartley is unavailable because of injury, but North and Brookes both start, with Tuala admitting the three had brought a lot of energy into the week’s training.
He said: “It has been a huge couple of weeks for them winning the Grand Slam and the Six nations. They have brought a lot of energy.
“It has been great to have George [North] back from Wales too as he’s obviously been playing really well.”
If you want to be at the world's biggest club rugby final, this year's Aviva Premiership Rugby Final on 28 May, tickets are still available from premiershiprugby.com/final.