Following Saints’ defeat to Exeter on Saturday, questions were asked of Jim Mallinder’s team selection.
Mallinder opted to leave his big guns in reserve, with Soane Tonga’uiha, Samu Manoa, Phil Dowson, Lee Dickson and Stephen Myler all benched for the game at Sandy Park.
As it turned out, they were forced into the action sooner than expected as Saints stayed in hibernation mode until five minutes before the break.
By that time, Exeter were 22-0 up and running away with it.
The Chiefs were banging the drums, and the Northampton players had lost their ear plugs.
Mallinder called for the cavalry nine minutes into the second half, desperate to keep LV= Cup hopes alive.
But even though the main men made a huge difference - Myler pulled the strings, Dickson scored twice and the forwards cranked up the heat - there was too much to do.
There was no platform for the replacements to build on. Instead, they were walking on quicksand.
The truth of the matter is that Mallinder, who later pointed out the need to keep key squad members fresh for the Premiership, was let down by his fringe players.
A week earlier, many of those men had smashed Gloucester 26-7. There was no reason to feel they couldn’t get a result again, especially as Exeter opted to mix their team up.
But Saints weren’t at the races at the start and by time the pedigree players came on, the horse had already bolted, running helplessly in front of the oncoming traffic.
So while Mallinder’s team selection can be queried on some counts - his selections at half-back were dubious, given the recent form of Ryan Lamb, especially - the players must also shoulder some blame.
They were given a chance to show their worth, to stake a claim for roles during the Premiership run-in. But they failed.
Lamb and Martin Roberts could have laid a marker down for the likes of Myler and Dickson. They didn’t, and will now be consigned to replacement roles for the foreseeable future.
Saints had not been embarrassed since that day at the Madejski Stadium in early October; the words London Irish still send a shiver down the spines of Northampton fans.
But this was another of those Mad days, made worse by the men Exeter, who can only be credited for their appetite, endeavour and intelligence, had left out.
All in all, Saints were the antithesis of the phalanx in pink. It was a black day for Mallinder’s outfit.
They now need the brightest response against Gloucester when Premiership action returns to Franklin’s Gardens on Saturday.
And no prizes will be given for guessing which team will be chosen for that clash.
How they rated...
Not the way the full-back would have wanted his first game as Saints captain to go. Didn’t make the impact he would have hoped for after being released by England... 6
Opted to kick too much when keeping the ball in hand may have been the better option. Execution wasn’t the best either... 5
Didn’t hit the heights of his performance at Sandy Park a month ago and really struggled to get in the game. He wasn’t the only one, though... 5
Like Waldouck, never really made the desired impact, but did at least threaten to break the Exeter line on a couple of occasions... 6
Had a really tough day up against the rapid Watisoni Votu, who was the star of the show during the first half... 5
Had another one of those days, where little went right. Didn’t get a grip of the game when Saints were calling out for some inspiration... 4
Like Lamb, didn’t dictate the tempo of the game and was unable to pull the strings. Some poor decision making... 4
Got his second try in as many games and didn’t do too bad a job overall. The prop certainly has promise, but this was not an easy day for any Saint... 6
Really struggled with his lineout throws but wasn’t too bad around the field. Still learning but will need to improve next weekend... 5
Not the greatest day for the tighthead prop, but he at least showed a bit of appetite at times... 6
The experienced campaigner was one of those sacrificed during the second half as the big guns came on and he didn’t have his greatest game... 5
Made a successful return from injury a week earlier, but this was a far tougher day and he struggled to conduct the lineout... 5
Hasn’t got many minutes under his belt due to a recent return from injury and he looked a bit rusty at times... 5
Showed some real desire during the second half, but it was to be too little, too late for Saints... 6
GJ VAN VELZE
An uncomfortable return from injury for the South African, who was one of the stars of the show when Saints won at Sandy Park in the Premiership in January... 5
Replacements (who played more than 20 minutes)
SOANE TONGA’UIHA (for A Waller, 49)
Helped Saints up their game at the breakdown and his power was key as the away side finally go into the groove during the second half... 7
SAMU MANOA (for Sorenson, 49)
The American upped the physicality stakes and made the expected impact to help make the scoreline more respectable... 6
PHIL DOWSON (for Craig, 49)
Mr Reliable would have been looking on in dismay at how the side fell apart during the first 32 minutes but he helped make a difference... 6
LEE DICKSON (for Roberts, 49)
Saints’ star performer as he was everything Roberts wasn’t. Scooped two tries after good work from the pack and really injected some direction... 8
STEPHEN MYLER (for Lamb, 49)
Saints were much steadier when this man came on and he again cemented his place as the club’s No.1 fly-half... 7