Gaffney using every trick in the book to get the best out of Saints

Alan Gaffney joined Saints at the start of 2018 on a deal until the end of the current campaign (picture: Kirsty Edmonds)
Alan Gaffney joined Saints at the start of 2018 on a deal until the end of the current campaign (picture: Kirsty Edmonds)

Alan Gaffney's post-match interview on Saturday evening was the most candid at Franklin's Gardens for many a year.

He publicly took the players to task for their first-half performance against Sale Sharks, which saw the black, green and gold ship 31 points and score just six.

The Sharks, who had only won two away games in the Aviva Premiership this season prior to the visit to the Gardens, ran riot.

And Saints initially had no answer on a day when so many supporters and staff had worked so hard to get the game played amid sub-zero conditions and heavy snowfall in Northampton.

The patience of Gaffney, who joined Saints as technical coaching consultant at the start of 2018, had clearly run out.

But his incredible honesty, which included the Australian labelling the display 'absolutely abysmal' and 'depressing' was perhaps to be expected, given what interim head coach Alan
Dickens had told this publication about the Australian just a few days earlier.

"I've known Gaff for 11 years since 2006, when I first came across him at Saracens," said Dickens, who was the man who made the call to Gaffney to see if he would fancy joining Saints following Jim Mallinder's departure in December.

"Everyone keeps telling me what a lovely bloke he is, and he is, but when you get on the training pitch and do analysis, he's as stern as they come.

"I find he's a positive influence because he drives standards and he gets the players to improve."

And that is what Gaffney is evidently trying to do.

A man of immense experience in the game, he is using every trick in the book to try to inspire Saints for the remainder of the season.

He knows one of the biggest games left on the fixture list comes on Friday night, in the Anglo-Welsh Cup semi-final at Bath.

Saints are not going to be relegated, and they are not going to finish in the top six.

So, along with a long-awaited derby-day win at Leicester Tigers in April, their main aim has to be to secure some silverware in the next two weeks.

No, the Anglo-Welsh Cup isn't the trophy every supporter dreams about at the start of the campaign, but it is a trophy nonetheless.

And Gaffney will hope that his harsh words can do the trick, just as they did at the start of his tenure, when Saints showed great spirit to beat the likes of Gloucester and Clermont Auvergne.

Their run of four successive home wins following Gaffney's arrival ended on Saturday, with Sale securing their first success in Northampton since May 2006.

And Gaffney's interview after the game summed up the mood of the supporters who had braved the horrible conditions to venture to the Gardens.

It is refreshing for fans who have paid to watch their team to be given an honest appraisal.

And whether you believe the dirty laundry should have been aired in public or not, one thing that has improved at Saints this season is the communication with the fans.

Injury news is now given freely so that supporters can fully understand why they are not seeing some of their stars on a Friday, Saturday or Sunday.

And Gaffney's words about why he felt George North did not feature last weekend were more evidence that the coaches want to be open with the fans.

North is yet to publicly have his say, so it will take time to get to the bottom of the matter.

But what Gaffney is trying to do is to get every member of the squad to prove they want to fight for the cause for the remainder of the campaign.

And his comments about Heinrich Brüssow after Saturday's game said it all.

"It's great to see someone like Heinz Brüssow, who has probably got a different attitude to a lot of others," Gaffney said. "He can't wait to get back on the pitch."

There it is again, praising players he feels are worthy of the shirt and taking on the ones he doesn't.

The team selection against Bath on Friday night will be telling.

And it just remains to be seen whether Gaffney's up-front approach can inspire the desired response from his side as they desperately try to salvage something from a sorry season.