Countdown continues as Saints' clash with Leinster edges ever closer

Saints defence coach Alan Dickens
Saints defence coach Alan Dickens

Monday marked exactly a month until rugby returns to Franklin’s Gardens.

Leinster will be travelling to Northampton on September 12 to take on a Saints side who will start their season with a Premiership Rugby Cup fixture at Sale Sharks nine days later.

It is a long, gruelling pre-season for Premiership clubs this year as the league action doesn’t get underway until World Cup quarter-final weekend, which comes towards the end of October.

So how are things shaping up at Saints ahead of the long-awaited return to action?

“Whenever you get to this time of year, the players start to get a bit lively in training,” said Saints defence coach Alan Dickens.

“We haven’t quite got there yet but the players are aware it’s an elongated pre-season and they’re working hard.

“The new players have come in and settled in well.

“Henry Taylor, Ryan Olowofela and the first-year Academy players have all dropped in well.

“We’ve done a lot of team building in the training week and in the social events the players organise.

“Ultimately, what the players train so hard for is to play games.

“They don’t train to be professional trainers, they want to play rugby.

“It will be a tough challenge in that first game against Leinster. They’ll have some players missing because of the World Cup but they’ve shown year after year that they’re a tough team to play against with or without their internationals.

“It will be a good test and one the boys will be excited about.”

Saints will be back in the Champions Cup this season, squaring up to Leinster, Lyon and Benetton in Pool 1.

It means their fixture list looks relentless until the end of January, but Dickens and his fellow coaches are full of belief thanks to the ability the entire squad showed last season.

Young players stepped up as Saints finished fourth in the Gallagher Premiership, reached the Challenge Cup quarter-finals and won the Premiership Rugby Cup.

And Dickens said: “Last season a lot of younger players were given opportunities and I feel that stands us in good stead going forward.

“We’ve got confidence in the team and the ability to rotate the team, as we did last year.

“It’s really important going into a season where we’re competing in the Premiership and also the Champions Cup.

“It will be squad effort by all means and last year has given us that confidence.

“A lot of players have got first-team experience and that will stand us in good stead.”