Saints Director of Rugby Phil Dowson expects a tough but exciting East Midlands derby as international selections force Northampton and Leicester to delve into their squads.
Dowson has welcomed the return of domestic action after a tricky European campaign that concluded with another hefty defeat at home to La Rochelle, writes James Logan.
An injury to Courtney Lawes as well as red cards for Fraser Dingwall and Salakaia-Loto had proved too costly last time out as they struggled to keep out the European champions.
Dowson said: “It was frustrating because it was 7-3 at half-time and we lose somebody through a red card. I still thought it was a point game with 60 minutes gone and the last 20 minutes we couldn’t deal with their power and that put us under an immense amount of pressure.
“It’s not all doom and gloom, but yet again it’s another hefty defeat to a top side and it is disappointing, and we need to keep kicking on and getting better.”
Dowson believes that there is still a lot to do before the team is to be considered one of the top teams but feels that his side is on the right path, despite comments from La Rochelle coach Ronan O’Gara that there was no ‘fear factor’ when they played Saints.
“You look at our season finishes the last four years we’ve been fourth, eighth, fifth and fourth and in the context of the European game I don’t think we are a top side, maybe that’s the truth of it. Do we aspire to be? Of course. Are we ambitious? Of course.
“We may not be the finished article or be the end product, but I know that there is a huge amount of desire and effort to make sure that it is the case and that in the future there will be that fear factor for those big teams in Europe,” said Dowson.
Injuries and international call-ups will undoubtedly play a part in what is promised to be an “exciting” Midlands derby on Saturday at 2pm.
“It is a shame to miss people through injury, through England call-ups and disciplinary issues and that will obviously make it tough and make you look to the depth of your squad and we have some cracking lads that haven’t had a lot of rugby recently and will be ready to show what they have.
“Leicester are in the same boat. They lost seven in their squad, a couple in double positions, both nines and both tightheads. Again, they will be looking towards the depth of their squad, and I know they have a very strong squad and have started to play some cracking rugby, their result in Clermont was very impressive.
“I think we are two points off third and three points off ninth, pretty tight and these next rounds of games, the next four or five games, will be integral to who makes that top four. We need to put a run together and we know that and the best way is to train well and perform and give ourselves the best chance of winning games,” said Dowson.
There are no more guaranteed wins says Alex Waller
In a league where the competition is closer than ever veteran prop Alex Waller described how much a win matters.
He said: “I think we are only two points off third and the other way round as well. It’s close and it makes it as a spectacle pretty interesting for the fans. Obviously one minute a win can put you back in contention back up in the top four and a loss the other way, so it’s tense and it’s stressful.
“Back in the day, back when I first started you could have one or two games that you could maybe write off and give lads the rest and they’re guaranteed wins, but this just doesn’t exist anymore. The standard of the game is pretty high, it’s exciting and it is tense and hopefully we can get the win at the weekend and climb our way back up.”
Saints will want to replicate their clinical play style when they face last season’s semi-final opponents.
“We were unfortunate we didn’t quite execute the few opportunities we had last time out, but it is a different team, different style, but we can’t base anything on last season,” said Waller.
“I’ve played in enough games at Welford Road to know that you need to play at the top of your game regardless of form, so we need to focus on our process and our game on the pitch and hopefully the result will match the performance.”
Saints line-up for East Midlands derby
15 James Ramm
14 Courtnall Skosan
13 Matt Proctor
12 Rory Hutchinson
11 Ollie Sleightholme
10 George Furbank (c)
9 Tom James – 50th Saints Appearance
1 Alex Waller
2 Mike Haywood
3 Paul Hill
4 Alex Moon
5 Alex Coles
6 Angus Scott-Young
7 Aaron Hinkley
8 Juarno Augustus
16 Robbie Smith
17 Ethan Waller
18 Alfie Petch
19 Brandon Nansen
20 Karl Wilkins
21 Sam Graham
22 Callum Braley
23 Tom Litchfield