Saturday 23 November 2013 – 3.15pm
Franklin’s Gardens, Northampton
Aviva Premiership #8
Earlier this week I saw a tweet that went something like “Can’t wait for @PremRugby to start again, hoping Saints get a bonus point!” I resisted the temptation to tweet “Aye, a losing one”.
Away to last season’s losing finalists probably isn’t the game we want with the doom-mongers out in force this week following the admittedly poor performance at Gloucester. I was also not really impressed by Dean Richards’ quotes about some of the players acquitting themselves well, but then again our start to the season hasn’t been too bad.
If someone had said that by the middle of November we’d have won three league games, we’d be eleven points clear of the bottom team and for good measure top one point off top in the Challenge Cup, I’d probably have been happy. The performances haven’t been great in the main, perhaps Worcester away was the best I’ve seen, but I’ve always believed that you win games first, then the performances will come. After all, we don’t go to watch the team lose, however well they play.
Lets not forget that Northampton were relegated just six years ago, and since then have regained their status as one of England’s top clubs, losing the Challenge Cup final to Bourgoin in 2009, their first year back in the big time, and then winning the LV= Cup a year later. In 2011, only Leinster in the final in Cardiff prevented Northampton winning a second Heineken Cup, 11 years after their first.
Not a bad example for us to follow. It’ll be a long road but there’s no need to panic yet.
Back to tomorrow anyway, and a trip to one of the loveliest grounds in the Premiership – Franklin’s Gardens. Northampton are second in the table after seven games with 26 points, two behind Saracens, coming back strongly after last season’s final defeat to arch-rivals Leicester.
Jim Mallinder’s side have already drawn at Welford Road back in October, and their only defeat in the Premiership so far came in controversial circumstances at Kingsholm 26-24 in September, thanks to a late Gloucester penalty that combined with previous decisions had Saints supporters crying foul at referee Martin Fox. 23-24 up with minutes to go – he couldn’t have been that biased.
In amongst those results, Exeter were beaten with something to spare 38-11 at Franklin’s Gardens on opening day, before James Wilson’s try was the difference between the Saints and Harlequins at the Stoop, the away side triumphing 6-13 in a key top of the table battle. Sandwiched in between the Gloucester defeat and Tigers draw, Northampton returned home and got another bonus point from a 33-14 win against Sale, star summer signing George North among the scorers for his new club.
Following the European break, Saracens were thumped 41-20 between the lake and the pavilion, and then while we were losing at Allianz Park, the Saints temporarily went top by beating London Irish 16-23 in Reading.
In the cups, Northampton lost their opening game in the final Heineken Cup 19-13 at Castres before winning a crunch home encounter with Ospreys 27-16. They have also taken control of our own pool four in the LV= Cup, with nine points from games at home to Gloucester and away to Irish. I wouldn’t be betting on a visit to Exeter in March.
After making a debut against Exeter on opening day, the aforementioned North, one of the stars of the Lions series, has now made seven appearances for the Saints but has just that one try against Sale. He is one super Saint we will not have to worry about this weekend however after being included in the Wales team to play Tonga tonight. He has already scored for his country this autumn, against Argentina last Saturday.
I didn’t realise this, but North was actually born in King’s Lynn.
The other big signing of the summer was Alex Corbisiero from London Irish, also one of the summer’s top Lions, failed to make a start in the autumn friendlies but was on the bench against Argentina.
The likes of Ben Foden, Tom Wood and Courtney Lawes are also back after their few weeks with England, while former Falcon Lee Dickson has also recovered his starting place for country. His former KP colleague Phil Dowson appears to be a forgotten man as far as the national side is concerned.
At the age of 29 Stephen Myler, only the sixth player to score 1,000 Premiership points and a debutant for England in Argentina this summer, would seem to have an uphill struggle to get back into the Red Rose shirt ahead of Owen Farrell, Toby Flood and Freddie Burns, but centre Luther Burrell, a revelation since his transfer from Leeds in 2012, would seem to have time on his side.
Like many away grounds, we haven’t had the best of times in St James over the years, with only three away wins. The last was a crazy day in February 2009 when the Falcons, inspired by Tom May – who spent two seasons with the Saints until moving to London Welsh this summer – and Carl Hayman, went 0-19 up in the first half and held on for a 13-19 win.
More recently, there have been big defeats just over two and three years ago respectively. Previously, we won 9-16 in September 2005, when Dave Walder put in a superb show with a try and two drop-goals. Interestingly, of our starting 22 that day just eight years ago, only May, Mathew Tait and Geoff Parling are still playing pro rugby.
Falcons at Franklin’s:
15/02/1958 Club Match L6-33
28/12/1974 Cup 1st round W7-4
08/04/1989 Division 2 L12-13
23/01/1993 Cup 4th round L3-33
30/04/1994 Division 1 L23-43
12/11/1994 Club Match L0-12
06/04/1996 Division 2 L5-26
31/01/1998 Premiership 1 W21-17
28/02/1998 Cup QF L7-17
27/03/1999 Premiership 1 L16-57
26/12/1999 Premiership 1 L5-37
18/11/2000 Premiership L18-26
09/03/2002 Cup SF L7-38
12/05/2002 Premiership L19-24
07/09/2002 Premiership L13-31
18/10/2003 Premiership L20-33
15/04/2005 Premiership L22-23
17/09/2005 Premiership W16-9
03/09/2006 Premiership L23-25
28/02/2009 Premiership W19-13
13/02/2010 Premiership L13-25
30/10/2010 Premiership L13-34
29/10/2011 Premiership L15-44
With Dom Barrow injured (I know I know, but lets try not to panic), Fraser McKenzie partners Carlo del Fava in the second row with Scott MacLeod again on the bench. Scott Lawson is back from international duty and Oliver Tomaszczyk and Phil Godman come into the starting lineup.
Falcons: 15 Alex Tait, 14 Noah Cato, 13 Danny Barnes, 12 Adam Powell, 11 Ryan Shortland, 10 Phil Godman, 9 Mike Blair, 1 Rob Vickers, 2 Scott Lawson, 3 Oliver Tomaszczyk, 4 Carlo del Fava, 5 Fraser McKenzie, 6 Richard Mayhew, 7 Will Welch (c), 8 Ally Hogg.
Replacements: 16 George McGuigan, 17 Grant Shiells, 18 Scott Wilson, 19 Scott MacLeod, 20 Chris York, 21 Warren Fury, 22 Rory Clegg, 23 James Fitzpatrick.
Jim Mallinder, who is not underestimating us, has named the following team for tomorrow:
15 Ben Foden, 14 Jamie Elliott, 13 James Wilson, 12 Luther Burrell, 11 Tom Collins, 10 Stephen Myler, 9 Lee Dickson, 1 Alex Waller, 2 Mike Haywood, 3 Salesi Ma’afu, 4 Courtney Laws, 5 Christian Day, 6 Calum Clark, 7 Phil Dowson (c), 8 Sam Dickinson.
Replacements: 16 Ross McMillan, 17 Ethan Waller, 18 Tom Mercey, 19 GJ Van Velze, 20 Ben Nutley, 21 Alex Day, 22 Glenn Dickson, 23 Dom Waldouck.
I was going to just watch this game on the computer tomorrow but since there’s a night out in Manchester tonight with the lads, I’m halfway to Northampton already so might as well go the whole hog. Northampton is a hard place to go, it will a big challenge, it will be a very difficult game, but you never know.
Saints unoffy preview here.
(Follow The South Stand Choir on Twitter: @SouthStandChoir)