Club-by-club guide: Northampton Saints

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The Independent Online

Director of Rugby: Jim Mallinder

Captain: Bruce Reihana

IN

Neil Best (Ulster), Ben Broster (Llanelli Scarlets), Christian Day (Stade Francais), Alan Dickens (Saracens), Lee Dickson (Newcastle), Ignacio Fernandez Lobbe (Sale), Ben Foden (Sale), Stuart Friswell (Coventry), Scott Gray (Doncaster), Chris Mayor (Sale), Nils Mordt (London Irish), Roger Wilson (Ulster)

OUT

Damien Browne (Brive), Chris Budgen (Exeter), Simon Emms (released), Darren Fox (released), Johnny Howard (Bayonne), Mark Robinson (Wasps), Karl Rudzki (Cambridge), Christian Short (Brive), Paul Tupai, Ian Vass (both Bedford)

First five games

Sep 6 Worcester (H)

Sep 14 Newcastle Falcons (A)

Sep 20 Wasps (H)

Sep 27 Saracens (A)

Oct 1 Leicester Tigers (A)

Lessons from last season

Never mind bucketloads of tries and landslide victories, even five inch gains in territory will be infinitely harder for the Saints to achieve this year than they were in National One. The Midlanders can look to Harlequins for an example of what a year in the second tier can do for you though. Jim Mallinder (right) has been under no illusions about what lies in store for his charges, hence his heavy recruitment programme that sees the bruising Neil Best come in from Ulster plus the experience of Ignacio Fernandez Lobbe, Chris Mayor and Ben Foden from Sale.

Strengths

That the Saints shouldn’t be ravaged by international call-ups could give them the advantage in the Test match windows. Only Dylan Hartley (above) is in the EPS and of his new recruits Mallinder is only likely to lose Neil Best to Ireland, but even that isn’t a cert. Mallinder is keen to avoid recruiting too many internationals for this very reason.

Weaknesses

The Saints fitness coach Nick Johnston admitted his players are two years off top six condition which could cost them dear in the intensity of the Premiership. It’s going to take time for the new arrivals to gel.

Player to watch

All eyes will be on Chris Ashton after his try-scoring feats in National One. The former Wigan rugby league youngster racked up a record 41 in his first year as a union player, and if he gets anywhere near that he’ll be shoe-in for England.

Did you know?

Harry Weston was Saints’ first England international, playing against Scotland at Blackheath on March 9, 1901.

Prediction

Early season struggles for the Saints while they adapt, but shrewd recruitment should see them safe.

9th

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