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News: Northampton Saints - The Season So Far


By Matt Lindley
April 5 2012

In his first article for COYSDC, Matt Lindley (Saint Matt), reflects on the season so far for Northampton Saints...


2011 -2012 Northampton Saints Season Review

I’ll start with the obvious question, how can you review a season that hasn’t finished yet? Indeed, with three regular games left, the season could yet see us finish in the top four, win a semi-final and final to be crowned Aviva Premiership Champions, or finish outside the top four and enjoy no more than LV= Cup runners up status for this season.

The answer is that, for me at least, this season hasn’t been about silverware, it’s been about proof of continued development. While the history books tend not to have chapters about ‘developing’, preferring to focus on ‘winning’, I judge this season to be a success regardless of what happens over the next few weeks. That isn’t to say that seeing the Scarlet’s ultimately end our HC hopes at Franklins Gardens didn’t hurt like hell, or to say that, if we make the final I’d sit there grinning like a Cheshire cat if the opposition lifted the trophy after 80 minutes.

So then, what of this ‘development’?

Four years ago, the 28th March 2008, Saints were getting ready to face Nottingham at the Gardens in National Division 1. Saints won that game (on the 29th) 17-10, one of the few games that year where the result was in question right up until the final whistle (anyone remember Nottingham’s 14 man maul?). As expected, Saints completed their tour of ND1 and returned to the Premiership, but as professional as that season was on the field, the changes off the field where perhaps the most important. A recognition of the failings that had led to relegation, and a strategy to build continued success was developed, centred around the coaching talent of a certain tall, bald ex full-back and an angry, but no less canny, ex hooker.  (For those that are interested, the starting 15 that day was Reihana (capt), Ashton, Ansbro, Downey, Diggin, Myler, Howard; Smith, Shields, Stewart, Cannon, Rae, Fox, Lewitt, Easter.)

For the 2008 – 2009 season, the aim, as with any team promoted, has to simply be to ensure that you don’t go back down. Saints did this comfortably, winning 10, drawing 1 and suffering defeat in 11 games that season, whilst winning the European Challenge Cup. It was a year that also showed Saints were heading in the right direction, and could compete with anyone on their day, only losing one game at home all season, and showing that the team could play good attacking rugby, highlighted best of all by a 40-22 win against Gloucester.

The 2009 – 2010 season saw Saints show that they really were serious about becoming a force in the Premiership once again, finishing the regular season in second place with a record of W:16, D:0, L:6. The home semi-final was unfortunately lost to our friends from Watford, and, first time back in the HC, Saints came so close to qualifying from a very difficult group, the home win over Munster being a night that will live long in the memory of many a Saints supporter. The key thing about this season though, was that while a lot of the premiership teams were basing their play on defending well and waiting for the opposition to make mistakes, the Saints were winning plaudits for adventurous attacking play and a lethal counter attack.

2010 – 2011 showed that Jim and Dorian had built at starting 15 that had the potential to beat anyone, both domestically and abroad, with Saints marching to the HC final undefeated throughout the group stage. It was also the first time in a while that Saints remembered how difficult life can get while internationals are played during the regular season, and Saints early season form was undone by the wider squads inability to step up during the six nations. Unfortunately, this lack of depth in the squad meant that the ‘star’ players had to more or less play 80 minutes week in, week out for the run in, and we all know the consequences that ultimately had.

So to this season: Always going to be a strange one with the World Cup and Six Nations meaning that many teams would be without various starting players for large parts, but I’ll highlight some of the different areas I think Saints are continuing to progress in.

Firstly, the strength and depth of the squad. This season has seen an increase in the performance and win percentage while Saints have been missing key players. This has been partly due to some canny recruitment, with players like Pisi and Samu Manoa coming in as relative unknowns (didn’t we sign the wrong Pisi?) and performing admirably, but it’s also due to the continuing development of younger players.

This season we’ve seen Ben Nutley tackle Gloucester to submission, Mike Haywood end the Harlequins game being congratulated by the rest of the team, Jamie Elliot score some impressive tries and Alex Waller continue to develop at the coal face. We’ve also seen slightly older players continue to step it up a level, with Wood, Day (both when fit), Dickson, Clark all performing and leading better than last year*.

*I really don’t want this to become a discussion about Calum, but for what it’s worth, given the significant sanction he received at last Thursday's hearing, I totally believe that it will be the making of him as a man and a player, much in the same way that I don’t think Dylan would be club captain and owner of the England No. 2 shirt were it not for the fact that he had 6 months to evaluate his goals in 2007.

As for the style of play, the Downey crash ball and ‘The Scrum’© are, if certain pundits are to be believed, the only attacking threat Saints possess. While it is true that, especially last year, the 12 crash reached a point where defences saw it coming in advance, with a big 12 it is effective if your pack have given you quick front foot ball. The scrum continues to dominate if given the chance by Sir, no matter how much opposition coaches try to point out supposed infringements to the ref before kick-off.

But again this season, the style of play has developed. No longer is 1st phase ball guaranteed to result in Downey crashing into the 10 channel, helped by a serious attacking threat in Pisi at 13. While Roberts has provided more of a running threat around the fringes when Dickson has been away and players like Manoa and Tonga’uiha continue to look to smash holes 5-10m away from the preceding ruck.

The counter attack threat has stayed even when two of the regular back three have been away, but of course we look more likely to score from a counter attack when Ashton, and in particular, Foden are on the pitch.

Onto the coming and goings, as Saints kick on to the next level of development, we’re seeing some of Saints household names more onto pastures new. Whatever you may think of the departing and the clubs they are going to, I’d like to say a massive thanks for the memories, for putting your body on the line for the Saints and wish each one of them success with their new clubs. (That last sentence always caveated with ‘unless playing against Saints’.)

Of the new comers, I think Rodger Wilson’s boots will be the most difficult to fill, simply because getting a player of that ability who isn’t at risk of an international call up is difficult. With that in mind, Jim and Dorian took to shopping in foreign supermarkets, namely the Super 15 franchise of stores, where there is an expectation to stock back rows that are fast, skilful and seriously hard. The particular ‘Blue Bulls’ store that Jim and Dorian decided upon has a member of staff that I’m sure has positive things to say about the Saints, and with that in mind I’m most excited about the arrival of Gerrit-jan Van Velze.

Of the other new comers, Jim seems to be sticking with his system of bringing in players with varying levels of experience, but who haven’t yet (at least in his opinion) reached their potential. 24 year old centre Luther Burrell and 27 year old back row/lock Sam Dickinson certainly fit this profile and could become the sort of astute signings we’ve become used to. With some big names off, and the ability to sign a marquee player for next year, I know there is expectation in certain levels for a proven, international class player to be signed. I would love to see it, but if I’m honest I don’t think its Jims style, and I think we’ll instead see more squad signings to continue to kick us on a notch.

Onto next season then, and the reason I think this season has been a success regardless of what happens in the next 3 games. I think this year we have seen a continuation of the development of a squad and playing style that can win some serious silverware over the next few years. With a core in the squad of home internationals, supported by some quality imports and an increasing number of Academy players that look like they have the potential to be the real deal.

Having said that I still feel positive, because the evidence is there to suggest the club is continuing its upward trajectory, I must finish this article with a warning. I didn’t think Saints would win anything this year because I didn’t feel the squad, whilst better than previous years, is quite strong enough to cope without the internationals for a World Cup as well as the 6 Nations. However, there are no more interruptions than normal for the next few years, and if Jim and Dorian’s stewardship is to truly be seen as a success, Saints have to shake off the ‘nearly boys’ tag and, if those history books I mentioned at the start are to have chapters about Saints in them, it is imperative that Saints win either the HC or the Premiership once in the next 2 seasons.

Now – why hasn’t my 2012-13 season ticket arrived yet?!

COYS!

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ComeOnYouSaints.com
ComeOnYouSaints.com (IP Logged)

News: Northampton Saints - The Season So Far
05/04/2012 13:41
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Maverick1
Phil. (IP Logged)

Re: News: Northampton Saints - The Season So Far
05/04/2012 14:07
Many thanks for this Matt - it's a really good read! (Sm13)

 
eddiep
Edward (IP Logged)

Re: News: Northampton Saints - The Season So Far
05/04/2012 14:26
Nice one Matt. I enjoyed that. I think one of the most significant parts of our progress this year is that Jim didn't leave for the England job. Just after Johnson left every "expert" was saying Mallinder was the only man for the job. Thank goodness he wasn't. Our coaching staff is second to none.

 
tedge
tedge (IP Logged)

Re: News: Northampton Saints - The Season So Far
05/04/2012 14:29
Well considered review Matt and I agree mostly with your conclusions. Some might question your definition of "success" insofar as how it might be quantified; can it only be measured in terms of "pots" garnered or even the status of any trophies landed. Is winning the European Challenge Cup or the LV Cup "success" compared to the absence of the "big" trophies viz the HC or the AP ?

How do you define "upward trajectory" and some might ask for the evidence of that ? If reaching the final of the HC is followed by exit in the group stages the next season can that be called an upward trajectory ? Similarly is finishing lower in the leage than the previous season "progress" ?

Partly subjective of course and your assertion that "the evidence is there to suggest the club is continuing its upward trajectory" might never be proved - how will we know ?

Will we ever be able to say we have "arrived" at our destination when people's expectations differ ? Many will say they only go to be entertained, win or lose; in a way they are the lucky ones because mostly they get what they want. Others will claim Saints constantly promise much and achieve little.

That's what makes it so fascinating.

 
Broonie
Broonie (IP Logged)

Re: News: Northampton Saints - The Season So Far
05/04/2012 15:12
very good, matt.

interesting to note that the backs have been tweaked a little , personnel wise but are broadly similar, whereas the forwards are a totally different unit.

easy to see where the resources have gone, and needful as well, that pack would have seen us down again sharpish.

i'd say we actually addressed most of the depth issues last off season , and the academy graduates will increasingly take up the slack in that respect.

so i'd place more emphasis on the cup final team this close season , as i think the rest of the squad is there already to back up a push for major honours next year.

 
Re: News: Northampton Saints - The Season So Far
05/04/2012 15:24
Lovely piece of work and pretty much how I see it too

No alcohol for January. I'm a dryathlete in aid of cancer research.

Dryathlon

 
MESSAGES->author
Bob Stainsby (IP Logged)

Re: News: Northampton Saints - The Season So Far
05/04/2012 16:11
Well thought through and argued piece with which I mostly agree with other bits chucked in by Tedge. Due to family etc I rarely get to Wanderers or Academy games so I am heartened when experts like broonie and other speak glowingly of the health of Saints set up. Keep it going lads! COYS!

2013/14 Aviva Premiership Champions 2013/14 Amlin cup winners

 
Saint Matt
Saint Matt (IP Logged)

Re: News: Northampton Saints - The Season So Far
05/04/2012 16:31
Thanks all, the idea for the article came following the LV= defeat and discussing just what Saints could/should have achieved this season.

Tedge - completely agree that my idea of success could well be different from yours, which could be different again from the next person, which is absolutely what makes this sort of debate fascinating.

For me, I didn't expect us to emulate last season this season. If i'm honest I actually think we got to the HC final a few seasons too early almost, but the experience can only be a good thing!

I do however believe we'll be more likely to win silverware next season than we were last season, and by that basis I think the whole squad is continuing to develop.

 
MESSAGES->author
OldPete (IP Logged)

Re: News: Northampton Saints - The Season So Far
05/04/2012 16:47
its articles like that that restore my faith in the message board - well done sir.

 
propajob
propajob (IP Logged)

Re: News: Northampton Saints - The Season So Far
05/04/2012 17:14
Really enjoyed your article, thanks Matt.

 
Re: News: Northampton Saints - The Season So Far
05/04/2012 17:54
Just one thing though Matt, I'm sure your ancestors couldn't spell winking smiley

No alcohol for January. I'm a dryathlete in aid of cancer research.

Dryathlon

 
ElmaFudd.
ElmaFudd. (IP Logged)

Re: News: Northampton Saints - The Season So Far
05/04/2012 18:16
enjoyed reding and digesting that, until its written down tou don't realise the personnel changes we have seen in the last 3 years.

For what it's worth, I too agree that we got to the HC final a season or two early and I really didn't expect us to be challenging for it again this year so am not too dissapointes we went out in the groups. There was a lot of pre-sesson discussions on here about what we could expect and most agreed that challenging for one major 'pot' would be a good place for us to be. Well we are currently doing that so I don't think we can complain too much. Hopefully next season we will be defending an ap title and challenging for a HC final smiling smiley

Come On You Saints.

 
MESSAGES->author
Wee Jim (IP Logged)

Re: News: Northampton Saints - The Season So Far
05/04/2012 20:03
Nice article and I agree its not just about the silverware.

 
MESSAGES->author
Howlin (IP Logged)

Re: News: Northampton Saints - The Season So Far
06/04/2012 13:09
What Pete said.

Saint til I die

 
saint_tim
Saint Tim (IP Logged)

Re: News: Northampton Saints - The Season So Far
06/04/2012 19:00
thumbs down

http://www.smurfomatic.plus.com/sttim.gif

“Those who desire to give up freedom in order to gain security will not have, nor do they deserve, either one.”

Benjamin Franklin

Tetleys Block F E143

 
Waggydog
Waggydog (IP Logged)

Re: News: Northampton Saints - The Season So Far
06/04/2012 19:43
I know this season isn't finished yet (hasn't it been a funny one?) but this has already made me very VERY excited for next year. Not least because all of our new signings will have had a pre season with the hood under their belts before the first game.

Thank you for a fine read.

 
MESSAGES->author
Bernie (IP Logged)

Re: News: Northampton Saints - The Season So Far
06/04/2012 20:15
Good read, well done! The upward trajectory is the improvement in the squad and the development of the youngsters?

Per Ardua Ad Astra

 
Eif Jones
Eif Jones (IP Logged)

Re: News: Northampton Saints - The Season So Far
07/04/2012 00:41
Actually Matt Lindlay, the 'right' Pisi is a quality outside half, something we haven't got here at FG. Until we do, we are always going to be nearly men. The continual reference to the 'wrong' Pisi just demonstrates how easily pleased you are. Yes, I've never doubted his quality as a player, even though he played in Hamilton against Wales without making any impression, but the first priority is to get the outside half position sorted. A Gloucester/London Irish reject is not the solution.

 
Re: News: Northampton Saints - The Season So Far
07/04/2012 05:15
(Sm159)

No alcohol for January. I'm a dryathlete in aid of cancer research.

Dryathlon

 
ballagher
ballagher (IP Logged)

Re: News: Northampton Saints - The Season So Far
08/04/2012 17:14
Quote:
St.Rich Joe, Niamh and Sam's Dad
Just one thing though Matt, I'm sure your ancestors couldn't spell winking smiley

St Matt,

When I saw your full name I thought you might be related to St Rich JN&SD but it's obvious that it must be a very distant relationship; you talk a lot more sense than him.(Sm14)

Excellent stuff and thanks.

 
saint_tim
Saint Tim (IP Logged)

Re: News: Northampton Saints - The Season So Far
09/04/2012 19:37
I wonder if George and his bro might be linking up for an international over the summer. I wonder if he knows he is called the wrong one.....

http://www.smurfomatic.plus.com/sttim.gif

“Those who desire to give up freedom in order to gain security will not have, nor do they deserve, either one.”

Benjamin Franklin

Tetleys Block F E143

 
Saint Matt
Saint Matt (IP Logged)

Re: News: Northampton Saints - The Season So Far
10/04/2012 10:35
Thanks all,

Eif - I disagree with some things you say and agree with others, but I'm not saying which for fear of turning this into another debate about Saints and No. 10's.

 
eddiep
Edward (IP Logged)

Re: News: Northampton Saints - The Season So Far
10/04/2012 11:54
Get Geraghty back (Sm100)

 
tubby shark
Saint Tub (IP Logged)

Re: News: Northampton Saints - The Season So Far
10/04/2012 14:30
I actually think - at this level - it is about winning the silverware. We have added enough (anglo welsh and ECC) to show development into a top 4 side but you have to win the premiership finals (or at least get to them) and the Heineken Cup to say you were 'the top side'

Eif - disagree - we actually have 2 of the best 10's in the country (including imports) at the moment. Bath would have taken either over their world cup winner and they are both hugely improved in just 7 months this season.

Lastly.. Mr Gerrit-jan Van Velze.. starter for 10 on nick-names.. "Ferret" ? (SA pronunciation of Gerrit) or Va-Ve-Voom ?

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