Stade could be value to up their game in playoff
French raiders capable of causing an upset
Champions Cup qualifying playoff final
Sky Sports 2, 7.45pm Friday
Northampton are odds-on to claim the last remaining place in next season's European Champions Cup with victory over Stade Francais at Franklin's Gardens but they are facing a journey into the unknown.
The two seasoned European campaigners have never met before, and the Saints don't know which Stade side they are coming up against - the one who performed so meekly on the road in domestic competition or the one who battled to victory in the European Challenge Cup earlier this month.
Stade won just once away from home in the Top 14 this season - at bottom side Bayonne - and they were beaten at Edinburgh and Harlequins in the pool stage of the Challenge Cup too.
Their home form was enough to get them to the knockout stages of that tournament, and at that stage they stepped on the gas with an impressive victory over Ospreys in Cardiff and against Gloucester in the final in Edinburgh.
Skipper Sergio Parisse and France lock Pascal Pape are out but Australia’s Will Genia returns at scrum half and the visitors still have the players to claim victory at Franklin’s Gardens.
The spur of European success may be just what is needed to push their performances up a gear.
Northampton have victories over Montpellier and Castres in the Champions Cup this season in their credit column but they were unconvincing in their semi-final win over a depleted Connacht side last week.
A two-point win over Harlequins on the final day of the Premiership season ended a run of four consecutive league defeats for the Saints but their campaign has been sagging at the death while Stade still have fire in their bellies and at the prices it's worth backing the French side to show their true selves on the road once more.
1pt 7-4 Betway