Tom Vickers' Northampton Saints season preview

Saints have reason to smile ahead of the new season (pictures: Kirsty Edmonds)
Saints have reason to smile ahead of the new season (pictures: Kirsty Edmonds)

Have you ever gone out and bought something only to realise you've got it at home?

Well, that could be considered the case for Saints ahead of the new season, which starts with a mouthwatering fixture against Saracens at Twickenham on Saturday.

Dylan Hartley has been reappointed as Saints skipper this summer

Dylan Hartley has been reappointed as Saints skipper this summer

After a sluggish start to last season, the team was crying out for extra attacking impetus.

Moves were made for South Africa scrum-half Cobus Reinach, Blues fly-half Piers Francis and Australia back Rob Horne.

Saints fans salivated over the prospect of those Super Rugby players adding spark to a backline that seemed to be totally lacking in inspiration.

But then a sea change occurred.

Harry Mallinder has been key for Saints in recent months

Harry Mallinder has been key for Saints in recent months

Alan Dickens moved from the role of defence coach to attack coach, stepping up after the departure of Alex King in October.

And a few months down the line, Saints were playing the kind of rugby their fans expect.

They were direct, slick and keen to move the ball through the hands, shifting sides around at will.

Players such as scrum-half Nic Groom and flying full-back Ahsee Tuala came to the fore, with Nafi Tuitavake and Harry Mallinder, who impressed at 10, also starting to excel.

There are high hopes for flanker Lewis Ludlam

There are high hopes for flanker Lewis Ludlam

And though the results didn't always come, Saints were agonisingly close, pushing the likes of Bath, Leicester, Wasps and Saracens all the way.

Those teams needed last-gasp points to see off Jim Mallinder's men, who, with a little more composure in the closing stages, could well have sneaked into the top four.

Saints have continued their attacking improvement during pre-season, putting 11 tries past the Dragons and nine past Ulster.

And while you can't read much into pre-season results, you can read something into performances and the style of play.

Tom Collins has been in fine form during pre-season

Tom Collins has been in fine form during pre-season

Saints do not want to revert to blood, sweat and tears rugby this season.

They want to add to the confidence they gained from three successive wins at the conclusion of the previous campaign, which catapulted them into the Champions Cup.

And what the new players will give is not only extra ideas, but added depth.

All in all, you can guarantee this season certainly won't be a boring one.

But there is no doubt Saints have to address the defensive issues that blighted their chances of making the top four last time round.

Between February and April they conceded 30 or more points in five of eight matches.

They discovered that with attacking adventure comes defensive danger.

And they will need to strike a better balance this time round.

But if they can do that, they can not only be the Great Entertainers, but they can also find the consistency they have been so desperate for during the past two seasons.

Let's get it right - finishes of fifth and seventh since they topped the table in 2015 have not gone down well with players, coaches or fans.

Saints expect more and if they can make a statement in the early stages of the campaign, they will set themselves up nicely for the season.

But that is a big if.

Because games against Saracens, Leicester and Bath in the opening three weeks of the campaign are as tough as they come.

And Saints will need to be at their best from the off.

There is no doubt that the pack has been weakened by the departure of Louis Picamoles, who was the supporters' and players' player of the year last time round.

Other men will have to step up to cover, with a new international player not arriving until January.

But Mitch Eadie, a summer signing from Bristol, has shown promise during pre-season and Teimana Harrison always excels when he is given a run at No.8.

It is all about putting faith in players, especially the youngsters, with high hopes for the likes of Lewis Ludlam, David Ribbans, Tom Stephenson, Harry Mallinder and, in particular, Tom Collins, this season.

Collins has looked razor-sharp during pre-season and he loves a try.

If given the chance, Saints' young guns can fire this time round.

And the added freedom that the team was given towards the end of last season can only aid their development.

Saints are not being tipped by many to contend for the title this season.

But with England captain Dylan Hartley, who knows a bit about leading teams to trophies, in charge and a group of hungry players at their disposal, you never know.

Saints have not met their high standards in recent times, but if they can get off to a flying start, there is no reason why they shouldn't this season.

Strap yourselves in because it looks like it's going to be quite a ride.