Sport is full of fantastic rivalries, whether it’s nation against nation like the Ashes or city against city as in Derby County versus Nottingham Forest. There are some great cross-city rivalries too, of course: think Liverpool v Everton who meet in the FA Cup semi-final today or Birmingham City versus Aston Villa.
There is one local rivalry, though, that despite not necessarily tripping of the tongue as easily as others, is as fierce as any. This afternoon at 2.15, Northampton Saints take on Leicester Tigers in rugby’s Aviva Premiership at Franklin’s Gardens.
It’s 4th versus 3rd as the battle for semi-final places heats up - added spice to a fixture that has rarely needed it in recent times. To put it bluntly, these two teams simply don’t get on, despite being separated by just 36 miles of the M1. From the coaches down there’s little love lost between them. The relationship between Northampton’s director of rugby, Jim Mallinder and his opposite number at Welford Road, Richard Cockerill, is frosty at best even if the games themselves are generally anything but.
Saints Calum Clarke was recently banned for 32 weeks, one of the longest ever handed out, for breaking the elbow of Leicester’s Rob Hawkins.
Both teams had a player sent off when they met last December while in May 2011 Manu Tuilagi was banned for five weeks for punching Leicester’s Chris Ashton (the pair are England team mates).
Mallinder has insisted his team’s build up to the game has been ‘quiet’, while Cockerill, who welcomes back England scrum-half Ben Youngs for the fixture, has acknowledged them as ‘great contests’.
As understatements go, you can’t help thinking both of those may well rank highly on the all-time list come 3.45 this afternoon. So, forget Liverpool versus Everton, Northampton verses Leicester is the one to watch today. Light the blue touch paper and stand well back!
You can watch the game live on ESPN Classic or listen on BBC Radio Northampton. We’ll have a full report on Monday’s Central Tonight.