JON SLEIGHTHOLME COLUMN: Saints have to reconnect with disgruntled supporters

NOT HAPPY - fans head for the exits early as the Saints lose to Gloucester last Saturday (Picture: Linda Dawson)
NOT HAPPY - fans head for the exits early as the Saints lose to Gloucester last Saturday (Picture: Linda Dawson)

Beware the disgruntled customer. To witness fans leaving Franklin’s Gardens well before the final whistle last Saturday afternoon was a truly unpleasant thing to watch.

There will be many diehards that point the finger to the fact that you should support your team through thick and thin, and they are right. You should.

However, there are now many more occasional regulars in terms of bums on seats at the Saints, and they are much more fickle in their patronage.

It’s not that I agree with walking out of a game early, but it is reality and what happens in clubs and sports the world over.

People will eventually vote with their feet, it’s a way for many people to vent their frustration.

I feel that the part of the challenge the club is facing at the moment is with their relationship with the fans.

Speaking to many people recently, they feel an increasing disconnect with the club, some have even made the comment to me that they feel more like customers than supporters nowadays, and this is something people feel has been brewing and festering for some time.

That is alarming and ought to be ringing loudly with the management.

The relationship between fans, players and clubs has always been one of the magic aspects of rugby, ordinary men from ordinary backgrounds doing extraordinary things on the pitch, but remaining grounded by having that close rapport with the people on the terraces.

While times are good and the team is winning people are prepared to overlook some of these issues and to a degree the cracks are papered over.

But when you have a run of results like Saints have had recently, then these cracks quickly reappear and in some cases get bigger and uglier.

Looking forward to this weekend, it is good news for the Saints that some of their England contingent are back for the critical clash at Worcester.

They will need that injection of positivity that Dylan Hartley and Courtney Lawes will bring from a buoyant England camp.

We all hope that it will inspire the team to a much needed win.

England win in Dublin more impressive than beating New Zealand

One glance at the weather forecast on Sunday and you quickly realised we were not going to be gifted with an expansive try fest, but it was nonetheless totally compulsive viewing and enthralling to watch.

On paper and with the conditions in their favour it ought to have put Ireland in pole position, but watching the game you would have been forgiven for thinking that it was England who were the experienced, battle-hardened veterans with a whole host of international caps.

Ireland were the ones that found conditions tough to deal with, dropping ball after ball in contact. Coupled with the injuries to Jonny Sexton and Simon Zebo, their rhythm was definitely affected.

This England performance for me was probably more impressive than the win over New Zealand, the odds stacked against them, away from home in an intimidating atmosphere with conditions that even the most experienced of internationals can struggle with, England excelled.

The win was built upon another top-class defensive effort.

This is something that saw them home in a couple of Six Nations games last year but to add to that defensive rigidity there was also a control and composure around this team that was not there a year ago. The defining period for me was, without doubt, after the James Haskell sin binning.

The discipline which had been so solid in the first half deserted them at the start of the second, and Haskell’s indiscretion could have proved a massive turning point.

There was a direct correlation between that incident and the pressure that they came under when the All Blacks came back at them before Christmas, there was no panic, but control and clear heads.

To exit the sin period having only conceded three points to the penalty that led to Haskell’s card and kicking six points of their own was a huge blow to Ireland.

The field marshal of events was again Owen Farrell.

We still have to remind ourselves how young he is, yet he showed over the past three England games that he can mix and match his game around the conditions and opposition, a rare skill.

This week he was joined by Ben Youngs in giving England the control and, critically, the tactical kicking game they needed to keep Ireland on the back foot and under pressure.

The Ireland back three did not deal with that threat particularly well, unlike their England counterparts who made light work of the incredibly tough conditions.

Alex Goode and Mike Brown were monumental under the high ball – that kind of performance at the back lifts the whole team.

England have some time to rest before their clash with France, but it will be a fool who underestimates them after their awful start to the campaign. Despite two dreadful performances there is every chance the real France will turn up a week on Saturday.

Much of the talk through this Six Nations will be of players that have either enhanced or damaged their chances of a Lions call this summer. Several England players have done themselves no harm at all over the past two weekends which makes comments made this week by Lions coach Warren Gatland utterly perplexing.

His views of the potential disruption that taking too many England players on the Lions tour this summer might cause is a tad insulting to the current England set-up.

The facts are the best players should be selected to go to Australia this summer regardless of who they play their international rugby for. To go back to what happened to England at the last World Cup is unfair and unjust to the work Stuart Lancaster has done with the squad. It is a new regime and the players must be judged on their performances on the pitch currently, not on something which happened in very different circumstances and in many cases to a different group of players.

I don’t believe the Australian media will single out English players – anyone wearing a red shirt will be fair game as far as they are concerned.