Jon Sleightholme - Good to see key men back again

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Last year, the England players returning to the Saints team after the Six Nations were rather like the cavalry charge coming over the hill to save the day.

This year, Saints have played pretty well during the international window so it’s not quite the same. But it is good to have them back.

It was really heartening to see Ben Foden back to the form that he left Saints in prior to the Six Nations.

He has played well during England’s campaign but perhaps a little muted by his very high standards.

He was back to his electric best on Saturday evening and, although Paul Diggin has done a great job filling in at 15, Saints have missed Foden.

Chris Ashton looks to have eaten some large slices of humble pie over the past couple of months. I honestly thought we might have seen the last of him in a Saints jersey after his well-versed fall-out with Jim Mallinder.

The reaction from the fans also proved what a real honour it is to play in front of the Franklin’s Gardens crowd.

They are a pretty knowledgeable bunch and all they really want to see is players pulling on the jersey and putting in the hard yards. Ashton certainly did that against Wasps and the crowd showed their appreciation in return.

I wonder now if Ashton deep down still really believes that his move to Saracens is the best for him?

I have never thought it was.

I think it’s a move that has been sold to him and I genuinely hope it’s not something he will live to regret. I really do hope that he can leave the Saints on a high note.

Lee Dickson was another player to come back and whose return lifted those around him.

Dickson has been one of the real stars of the Six Nations.

Admittedly, he had an indifferent day against Ireland but on the whole he has been excellent.

His battle with Ben Youngs for the England number nine jersey should be a real humdinger over the coming year or so.

I think an England side needs two scrum-halves battling it out for the starting jersey. And a brief look back into recent history certainly confirms that fact.

Wasps put up more of a fight than I think many people expected in the first half against Saints.

But they simply made too many errors and handed the initiative to Saints in the final 10 minutes before half-time and effectively the game was over.

There are a few very nervous weeks ahead for Wasps.

It is sad to see a club that have achieved so much in the past 10 years in a relegation scrap.

Newcastle will fight, that is a given, and I think the gap ought to be big enough.

But a win for Newcastle next weekend against Sale, which is a real possibility, would tighten things up and there will be some very furrowed brows down in High Wycombe.

Newcastle will be lifted by the news that Dean Richards will be joining them next season after serving his time for his central role in the Bloodgate scandal.

It’s likely that his first job will be to return them straight back to the Premiership, a role he is familiar with and that’s pretty much ideal for Deano.

It will enable him to get back into the game, but out of the spotlight in the Championship, which I am sure will suit him down to the ground.

At the top of the table, Saints’ play-off ambitions are by no means cut and dried.

Just when you thought Gloucester had given them some breathing space, Exeter have started to sneak up on the blind-side.

Saints have a tough run-in with only the final game of the season against Worcester looking like a banker for them.

It will turn out to be a real scrap, and with Saints heading down to the south-west in a few weeks’ time that game could be the decider.

Now that Exeter are in the mix, it will definitely be an edgy few weeks for all concerned as they aim to create their own little bit of club history.

It is a remarkable achievement by Rob Baxter’s men.

Most people know that I have never been a fan of the play-off system.

But I have to admit that it does spice things up somewhat at the end of a campaign.

Picking a winner of the Premiership this year is a real head scratcher.

It is wide open, and on their day anyone one of them could win it.

As usual home draws in the semi-finals will be the key, and that now looks wide open to the top three sides.

As much as it pains me as a Saintsman to say this, but I think our neighbours up the M1 are looking rather ominous and are hitting form just at the right time.

As a betting man, that’s where I would have my money.