Leicester Tigers step up a level for 'spicy' clash with Northampton Saints, says Matt Smith
Leicester Tigers centre Matt Smith says the build-up to tomorrow's East Midlands Aviva Premiership derby with Northampton has been similar in intensity to that for Heineken Cup matches.
The 26-year-old says everything that the players and staff have done this week has risen a notch or two as Leicester aim to extend a five-game winning run against their bitter rivals.
Smith cannot wait to take the field at Welford Road for a fixture he relishes every season.
"Saints is always the one I look forward to at the start of the season when the fixture list comes out," he said.
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"There is a bit of extra spice because the whole squad knows how much it means to the team and the fans.
"It has been like a European week in the build-up. The intensity has definitely risen in training. From the start of the week, everyone knows it is a massive game.
"A few hits come harder and a few of those hits are later, as well. It means more to everyone and it takes longer to recover afterwards. It's one you want to win.
"This fixture was a highlight for me last season, scoring an important try. I have a few mates who are Saints fans and the banter has started.
"I invited a friend to come to the game and he declined, saying that he is bored of watching Leicester lose to Northampton. I don't know what games he has been watching?
"They have had a big forwards pack and it will be won and lost in there, as usual.
"In the backs, they have Ryan Lamb, who is pretty good. We just hope he has a bad day."
Smith has made seven appearances Tigers this season, but five of them have been from the bench.
With Manu Tuilagi away on England duty until early December, the son of former Tiger Ian 'Dosser' Smith will have the chance to nudge ever closer to his 100th start for Leicester.
Smith is fully aware, on what is set to be his 93rd of those starts, that Tigers will have to come out of the blocks a lot quicker this weekend, than they have been doing recently.
"Manu is away with England so I have a chance to play at my favourite position of outside-centre," he said. "There are plenty of lads who will be thinking the same but I am hoping for a run and hoping to enjoy it.
"We know we need to improve our starts after slow ones against Gloucester and the Ospreys.
"Matt O'Connor (head coach) was as uptight and angry as I have seen him on the Monday afterwards, and we are looking forward to starting with a bang tomorrow. We have enjoyed a good run against Northampton recently, but that is going to change one day. Let's hope it's not this weekend.
"Hopefully, we can get a good lead early on and they might get some negative thoughts and start thinking, 'Here we go again'.
"We have guys away too, but we have been good in training."