Tom Vickers' Saints 2017/18 season review
It's fair to say it hasn't been a vintage season at Franklin's Gardens.
There have been highs, but the lows have come far more frequently.Jim Mallinder, who had been at the club since 2007, paid the price for a poor run of form as he was dismissed in December.That came just a few months after Saints had briefly topped the table after winning four of their first five league games.After Mallinder’s exit, it took time for interim head coach Alan Dickens to steady the ship.Alan Gaffney’s arrival as technical coaching consultant at the turn of the year coincided with an upturn in form as Saints showed spirit to see off Gloucester and Clermont Auvergne.The win against the French giants was one of the high points of the campaign, bettered only by the April win at Welford Road.That was Saints’ first success at local rivals Leicester Tigers since February 2007 and went some way to making up for the misery of the fourth successive evisceration at the hands of Saracens on the previous weekend.But Rob Horne’s retirement, following a career-ending injury picked up just 12 seconds into the game at Tigers, dampened the jubilation brought by the victory.Horne had such a huge influence in his 21 games as a Northampton player, finishing the season as top scorer with eight tries.He will be a huge loss for Saints next season, but everyone at the club will be determined to look forward to life under Chris Boyd.The Kiwi is a big appointment and his experience of working with so many stars at the Hurricanes can surely only be a good thing.Time will tell, but, for now, let’s take a look back at a few key features of the season that ended with a 32-24 win against Worcester Warriors at the Gardens last weekend.
PLAYER OF THE SEASON - Jamie Gibson
In a season of so many ups and downs, the flanker has been Mr Consistent, rarely missing a game and rarely dropping below 7/10. His work rate is exceptional and he has plenty of quality, too, as shown by some of his assists
YOUNG PLAYER OF THE SEASON - James Grayson
The fly-half has not had a huge amount of first-team exposure and it hasn’t always been easy for him when he has, but there is no doubt that the 19-year-old has real potential, and his composure from the tee is very much like that of his father, Paul, and Stephen Myler.
MOST IMPRESSIVE STARTING SHOWING OF THE SEASON - Paul Hill
The prop had not started a game since November, having fallen out of favour, but, with Kieran Brookes and Jamal Ford-Robinson both sidelined due to injury, he stepped up and produced an incredible performance in the stunning win at Leicester on April 14.
CAMEO OF THE SEASON Ehren Painter
The 20-year-old replaced Paul Hill for the final 14 minutes of the game at Tigers last month and he really caught the eye, excelling in the scrum and making one turnover five metres from his own line that pretty much won the game for his team.
MOMENT OF THE SEASON - Ben Foden’s try against Worcester
What a fitting farewell it was for Ben Foden, who skipped through the Worcester defence to score on his 250th and final Saints appearance last weekend. The full-back was mobbed by his team-mates with cries of ‘Foden, Foden, Foden’ coming from the Franklin’s Gardens stands.
MATCH OF THE SEASON - The win at Leicester
No one saw this 27-21 victory coming. Saints went to Welford Road on the back of a nine-try thrashing at the hands of Saracens and the black, green and gold had not won at Tigers since 2007. But they ripped up the form book to record one of the most memorable victories for many a year as Tigers’play-off hopes were hit.
LOW POINT OF THE SEASON - Rob Horne’s retirement
The win at Leicester was undoubtedly tainted by the injury Rob Horne picked up just 12 seconds into the game. Having charged forward from kick-off, the centre collided with Sione Kalamafoni and after a lengthy spell of treatment on the field, he went to hospital, where he was found to have career-ending nerve damage to his arm.
ONE TO WATCH FOR NEXT SEASON - Cobus Reinach
The South African scrum-half had to play second fiddle to compatriot Nic Groom during the formative stages of the campaign, but he has enjoyed a run of games in recent weeks and though he has a few things to work on, namely kicking and concentration, he is that good that he could be a huge hit next season. He is absolutely rapid and very creative.
HOPE FOR NEXT SEASON - Chris Boyd brings Saints back into contention
Chris Boyd will take over at the Gardens this summer and there will be a craving for a play-off challenge under the Kiwi’s guidance next season. Saints got so used to battling for a top-four spot in the Premiership and they would love to compete for one again.