It is barely six months since Dan Biggar signed for Aviva Premiership outfit Northampton Saints but in rugby terms it may as well be light years ago.
So much has changed at Franklin’s Gardens since former director of rugby Jim Mallinder offered the Ospreys fly half a £650,000 contract simply too large to turn down, the club is almost unrecognisable both on or off the pitch.
Mallinder, a mainstay at Saints for more than a decade, has gone following a disastrous run before Christmas which saw the East Midlanders dumped out of the European Champions Cup after three games while suffering nine successive losses in major competitions.
Eventually the board ran out patience and Mallinder had to go.
A mini revival under technical coaching consultant Alan Gaffney – interim coach in most people’s language – has seen Saints claim three wins from six games in the New Year while the appointment of 59-year-old New Zealander Chris Boyd as director of rugby from next August promises a brighter future under the current Wellington Hurricanes boss.
But while the winds of change have swept through Franklin’s Gardens Biggar, 28, remains firmly on course for a summer switch from Pro14 outfit Ospreys to join fellow Wales international No 10s Owen Williams and Rhys Priestland in the English top flight.
“It’s unfortunate Jim carried the can for a couple of disappointing results but I’m looking forward to working with Chris in the future.” Biggar said.
“Jim leaving doesn’t really change anything. I’ve got a contract with Northampton, not with the head coach. In my mind I’m going to do my best for Northampton, whoever is coaching there.
“Northampton came knocking and I thought if I didn’t do it now I may not get the chance to go somewhere else in the future. I’m 28 and felt it was the right time for me and my family to make a move.
“The intensity of the games in the Premiership is a big step up, week in week out. In the Pro14 you get intense games but there are other games you can cruise through one or two weeks before you have to step it up again. The Premiership is hugely physical and you’ve got to be on the mettle every week.
“I want to test myself in a different environment. I’ve been at the Ospreys all my career and it’s inevitable you get in a comfort zone when you come in and know everyone. I know the security guards at the stadium and the ladies who make the food. Sometimes you want to put yourself out there a little bit. Hopefully it will work out and be exciting for me and my family.”
Lying 10th in the table but now only a point behind Harlequins, Northampton were desperately unlucky not to beat defending champions Exeter Chiefs last weekend when Thomas Waldrom’s last-gasp try earned Rob Baxter’s men victory by the skin of their teeth.
Tom Wood, Api Ratuniyarawa and Nafi Tuitavake return to Saints starting line up to face Sale at Franklin’s Gardens on Saturday – weather permitting – while Biggar will be an interested observer from Wales training camp as England hopeful Piers Francis continues in the No 10 shirt.
Fit again following “a tough five weeks of rehab” from a shoulder injury, Biggar returned to Wales colours last Saturday against Ireland where their already slim Six Nations title hopes were extinguished as they conceded five tries to three in a topsy-turvy encounter in Dublin.
Head coach Warren Gatland will name his side on Wednesday to face Italy next Sunday when Bath No 8 Taulupe Faletau is on course for a return after recovering from the latest knee injury he suffered in December.
With Gatland attempting to instil a more attacking mindset in his players, moving away from the more direct “Warrenball” style he has employed in the past, Wales have flattered to deceive after trouncing Scotland in superb style in their opening Six Nations encounter.
Narrow defeats by England and Ireland have seen Gatland’s men play plenty of attractive attacking rugby but fail to deliver the hard-nosed victories they’ve needed to sustain a campaign.
With Italy and France left to play in the tournament, a less adventurous approach may be around the corner.
“I know everyone wants us to play flair, attractive rugby all the time, and that’s what we want, but it’s also about being pragmatic at times,” Biggar said. “If you do the basics well other things tend to follow.
“All we can do is make sure or house is in order and let everybody else talk us down and everyone else up.”
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