Gardens is no longer always rosy for Saints

TOUGH NIGHT - Saints beat Castres at Franklin's Gardens last Friday, but it was hard work (Picture: Linda Dawson)
TOUGH NIGHT - Saints beat Castres at Franklin's Gardens last Friday, but it was hard work (Picture: Linda Dawson)

The result against Castres, taken in isolation, was in itself a good one - but in the wider context of qualification for the knockout stages of the Heineken Cup it was some way off what was needed.

In reality it will take some very odd results for Saints to qualify for the quarter-finals now. They desperately needed the winning bonus point last Friday night to keep themselves in the mix, but by the end of the game just getting the win was a challenge.

Saints never really looked like breaching the Castres line never mind scoring four tries.

Much of the credit must go to Castres who showed a lot more guts and fight than many other French sides have shown at this stage in the tournament historically.

What was probably lost in the build-up, and aftermath with all the talk of bonus points, was that Castres themselves had an opportunity to qualify, and certainly turned up like a team determined to get a result.

The same problem surfaced again for Northampton that has plagued them for much of this season, an inability to get some go-forward and a lack of ideas to break defences down.

It is a positive move that Saints have plumped for former Wasps and England international Alex King to join the coaching ranks next season, and he has a big job to do in terms of their attack and options when he arrives in the summer.

Saints travel to Glasgow this weekend knowing that their fate is largely in the hands of others; however a win with a bonus point will give them a chance.

I think it’s a very slim chance and we must not forget that Glasgow would like nothing better than to sign off their campaign with a morale-boosting win.

What is becoming a bigger concern for me in the short term is how Saints are performing at Franklin’s Gardens.

Most of their big performances have come away from home this season - Ulster, Exeter, Gloucester and Bath all spring to mind. I am struggling to think of any performances at home this season which can match the determination, discipline and will to win of those away performances.

The atmosphere on Friday was really flat, and considering qualification for the next round was a stake that was a huge surprise for me. It took until the last 10 minutes of the clash before the crowd really made some noise and got behind the team which again had me asking ‘why?’

I posted some comments on Twitter in the aftermath and had some interesting responses. One that really resonated with me went along the lines of “tonight we were spectators not supporters.” It is an interesting view and one which draws me to make a point that I have made before about the relationship between the fans and players.

It is symbiotic. The players need the supporters to make some noise to lift them (believe me there is nothing more inspiring than the Gardens in full voice) and the fans needs the players to perform to give them something to cheer and sing about.

Friday night was definitely the latter though, they needed a lift and it was simply too quiet for my liking, perhaps it was an element of nerves or doubts from the terraces and if so that certainly filtered out onto the pitch.

The fans should never underestimate the importance of backing and supporting the team particularly when they are low on confidence. It does make a difference, and the players do feel and sense it. I have a theory that may be the reason for this increasing detachment is that in the modern world the players and supporters are now further removed than they have ever been.

I have always felt it important that the players mix with supporters after the game, I know they still do but I would like to see more of it.

It’s part of the fabric of the game, and the more the players can understand and get to know those that spend their hard-earned cash at the Gardens, then the stronger that link and bond, and the more the supporters feel part of the team.


Dai Young, the likeable Wasps director of rugby, is right to feel gutted this week that Saracens have swooped for one of his stars this season, Bill Vunipola.

He has been very much part of the former champions’ renaissance this season, and I am sure a big part of their plans going forwards. Saracens have also plundered the Quins ranks at the same time for the impressive prop James Johnston. This is a worrying trend and is making a mockery of the salary cap.

There is simply no way Sarries can retain the depth and quality of their squad under current salary cap criteria, believe me the numbers just simply don’t stack up.

I have heard rumours of how they are managing to achieve this, and one would hope that the powers that be at Premier Rugby are using their powers to investigate the situation.

If I am hearing those accusations, then you can be sure those in positions of power in the game certainly are.

There was a telling statement from Quins boss Conor O’Shea about Johnston’s departure. He claimed that due to salary cap’s constraints, they were unable to meet his financial demands.

That in itself is a veiled shot across the Saracens bow and also a hand up to the Premier Rugby authorities. Many of the players that have been headhunted by Sarries over the past couple of seasons have gone for significantly increased packages.

I understand on the grapevine that Saints were keen to capture the signature of Charlie Hodgson when he was leaving Sale, but the rumour is that Saints were massively trumped by Saracens from a financial perspective.

The drain of talent to France has been an issue, but the increasing development of a Premiership super club is also a big worry. Premier Rugby really do need to have a detailed look at the situation, before it becomes a bigger problem than it is already.