Time for Saints to show what they are made of
Kieran Brookes says Saints' tricky run-in will give the players the chance to show what they are made of.
Jim Mallinder’s men have a tough final five fixtures in the Aviva Premiership, starting with Saturday’s east midlands derby against Leicester Tigers at Franklin’s Gardens.
That game will be followed by a trip to Wasps, a clash with Saracens in Milton Keynes, a game at Exeter Chiefs and a final-day home match against Harlequins.
Saints are currently four points off the top four and need to maintain the form that saw them secure a bonus-point success at Sale Sharks last time out.
And Brookes believes they can.
The prop said: “They are tough games coming up, but on their day, anyone can beat anyone in the Premiership.
“If we turn up with the right attitude and the right mentality, we can take anyone on.
“We’ve talked about it, but not necessarily performed like a top-four team so these next five games are a great opportunity to put that out on the pitch.”
But Saints will not be looking beyond Saturday’s showdown against Tigers.
Brookes has come to realise just how important these games are to the fans since switching to Saints from Newcastle Falcons in 2015.
And he said: “You know about them and you watch them on TV, hear about them and read them on Twitter, but until you’re actually in one and experiencing it, you don’t realise how much it means to everyone.
“It hasn’t surprised me. There’s a long history and it’s a massive rivalry. It’s been going on for years and you wouldn’t really expect anything else.
“The intensity has risen this week, especially with the international lads coming back.
“It’s been a bit niggly, lads all looking forward to the weekend for a big derby game.”
Brookes has been impressed with the displays of Saints’ Six Nations stars.
He said: “Dylan (Hartley) has led from the front, Courtney (Lawes) has put in some big shots and Woody (Tom Wood) has come off the bench and put in some good work rate. They’ve all added to the team.
“There have been some good performances since they’ve been away, particularly up front with Mikey (Haywood) there and it’s good for competition.
“We need to get as much competition as we can to bring the best out of people.
“We’re only missing one or two players, which is good, especially at this time of year.
“A few lads had some time off recently so they’re back and rested. They are back fresh and looking forward to playing some more rugby.
“It’s about freshening up mentally with the daily grind of the season, which takes its toll.
“It’s nice to let the legs have a rest and also get your head out of rugby and come back in motivated and ready to bring that added intensity to the week you’re back in.”
But Brookes knows just how big the challenge will be this weekend.
“Leicester have got a good, physical pack, good maul and whoever they pick, Freddie Burns or Owen Williams, will sit behind and try to control the game,” he said.
“We need to get after those two and front up in the set piece.”
Saints have not beaten Leicester during Brookes’ time at the club, with Mallinder’s men having not tamed the Tigers since December 2014.
And when asked why he feels his team have lost the past six derby matches, Brookes said: “Individual and collective mistakes, it’s negative on negative.
“When we make a mistake, we need to concentrate on the next job and not let it get us down.
“Discipline has been a big thing as well. We can’t allow Burns to put points on the board, we need to be more disciplined and make fewer mistakes.”
But Saints will be buoyed by the bonus-point win at Sale earlier this month.
And Brookes said: “We put in a really good performance up front and in the backs.
“It would have been nice to take it into the next week, but hopefully we can take that form into this week.”
This weekend’s game at the Gardens is officially a sell-out.
And Brookes said: “The crowd is definitely the 16th man and in those tough moments on the pitch, especially during the last 10 minutes of either half, when the crowd get behind you, it makes it a lot easier.”