Saracens visit to Franklin’s Gardens this weekend ought to be a run of the mill fixture – one of those end of season encounters with not that much at stake.
But Saints have been through an extraordinary campaign, arguably to sporting hell and back, and Saracens have played no small part in that.
The season opener at Twickenham wasn’t just a bad result, it wasn’t just a terrible result, it turned out to be the first sign that Saints were at the end of an era and Saracens were only too happy to be the bearers of the bad news.
Now we are at the other end of the season with Chris Boyd poised to take over as head coach and a changing of the guard still under way among the coaching and playing staff.
Taking some points off the well drilled London side would mean more to Northampton’s players and fans than the league could ever show. The game that kicks off at 2pm on Saturday won’t be a Premiership decider but it might answer some questions about who Saints are.
Interim Head Coach Alan Dickens is only too aware of the significance of the game.
“We have some poor performances against them, we are here at the Gardens against them and we will look at our performance as a marker of how far we have come,” he said.
Saracens more than anyone have a reputation for delivering well executed rugby like a machine and preparing for that has been the main focus of training.
Dickens said: “We need to look after the ball, we need to go through the processes and ball security is paramount. Physicality is important, there are no surprises there, they have got some big players and we have got to meet them. In previous games they were on us and on us and there were times they scored without a tackle being missed.”
Coaching Consultant Alan Gaffney has already declared Saints will be picking their strongest teams as the season draws to a close so some of the departing stars will get a chance to shine, but the incredible form of the Wanderers who beat Wasps A 75-26 on Easter Monday is giving the coaches the right kind of problems.
Wasps v Wanderers Pictures by Dave Ikin
“The Wandies are reigning A league champions, a lot of that comes down to the academy process we have got here and then playing,” said Dickens.
“One of the frustrations is that they don’t play enough. It was a fantastic game from our point of view, not sure if you were playing for Wasps but credit to them hanging in there and scoring four tries.”
Tom Collins scored a hat-trick and the Wandies put 11 tries past Wasps in total.
Dickens said: “Everyone who played would have put themselves in contention. A lot of the players made a point. Ken Pisi put a couple or three people away for a try. Tom Stephenson carried hard, tackled hard. I’ve known him since he was 16 and first round the club, whatever he goes on to next we wish him well.”
New dad Mitch Eadie also had a great game at Eight in the Wanderers but his attention is now firmly fixed on Saturday.
“We have got a lot of players who are desperate to get out there. The Wanderers was a good result but it’s all about the benefitting the squad and if that puts pressure on for the chance of a start on Saturday that’s a good thing.
“Saracens will be clinical. There is no doubt that we remember Twickenham and that will be a big motivation for us.”
Tickets are now available from the ticket office at Franklin’s Gardens, online by visiting bit.ly/SAI-SAR-201718 or by calling the Saints Ticket Office on 01604 581000. Prices start at £32 for adults and £14 for juniors.