Northampton Saints 32 Ospreys 43: Tom Vickers' review and player ratings

Lewis Ludlam displays Saints' feeling of despair during the defeat to Ospreys (pictures: Kirsty Edmonds)
Lewis Ludlam displays Saints' feeling of despair during the defeat to Ospreys (pictures: Kirsty Edmonds)

When Saints worked their socks off to qualify for the Champions Cup towards the end of last season, they had hope.

Hope that this European campaign wouldn't go the way of previous ones, when they were forced to ensure sizeable defeats on the biggest stage.

Luther Burrell returned for Saints at centre on Saturday evening

Luther Burrell returned for Saints at centre on Saturday evening

Hope that this would be the year they would be able to mix it with the big boys again.

Hope that they wouldn't be left reeling at the end of the pool stage, as they were back in January.

And hope that Europe would be a welcome accompaniment to a successful league season.

But how quickly that hope has been extinguished.

Piers Francis was forced off after just eight minutes

Piers Francis was forced off after just eight minutes

And how Saints must now be wishing that they hadn't made it into the competition this season.

Because after a run of four successive Aviva Premiership wins at the end of September and a narrow defeat at Gloucester in early October, Europe arrived like a jackhammer hit.

Saints were smashed 57-13 by Saracens and then saw a profligate performance at Clermont Auvergne punished in the form of a 24-7 defeat.

Those were sizeable blows that crushed the confidence that had been built up during the first month of the campaign.

Harry Mallinder was Saints' best back and he scored a superb try before being sin-binned

Harry Mallinder was Saints' best back and he scored a superb try before being sin-binned

Saints shipped eight tries against Saracens, four against Clermont Auvergne and, on Saturday evening, six to an injury-ravaged Ospreys outfit.

The defence performance against the Welsh side, who had won just two of their previous 13 matches and not been victorious on the road in Europe's top tier tournament since 2009, was

probably the worst of the lot.

It felt that every attack ended in celebration for the away side and despair for their hosts.

Saints suffered a ninth defeat in their past 10 matches

Saints suffered a ninth defeat in their past 10 matches

It was like watching a punch-drunk boxer staggering around the ring, leaving his guard down at every turn.

And, sadly for Saints, it was merely the continuation of a theme, in that they simply didn't do enough when and where it mattered.

Their belief has been battered by recent defeats and they have now suffered an eye-watering nine in their past 10 matches.

There is little confidence being displayed by the team in key moments and that is mirrored by the supporters, with the stands sparsely-populated on Saturday evening.

It was the worst attendance for a first-team game for many a year and the abundance of empty seats told the tale.

Some fans could not bare to brave the cold or call off other commitments to watch another home defeat.

Some have reached the end of their tether with a team which is punching well below its weight.

And some will not return until major changes are made at Franklin's Gardens.

It is a sad tale and one which hurts everyone of a Northampton persuasion, from the top to the bottom of the club.

Professional players, who pride themselves on winning and striving to be the best, and the coaches, who are expected to drive the standards, are hurting more than anyone.

But unlike everyone else, they have the power to change it, and they have simply not been able to.

The relationship between coaches and players has to be symbiotic, but it does not seem to be.

Jim Mallinder spoke after the game about how he believes in his game plan but it is not being implemented.

"We can get the messages across but the team have got to do it," Mallinder said.

And that is worrying.

The ability of the coaches to get the players to perform, or the players to implement their coaches' ideas, has broken down.

And it has meant that Saints have started to sleepwalk into the worst times since Mallinder took charge in 2007.

There was some fight late on against Ospreys, with Saints scoring five times during a frantic second period.

But it was very much a case of closing the stable door after the horse had bolted.

As experienced campaigner Christian Day said: "It is very easy to throw the ball around when you've got nothing to lose, but we're not going to focus on 20 minutes of throwing the ball around, we need to focus on the first 60 minutes and what we did wrong."

It will be yet another video nasty in a season that is turning into a horror movie on loop.

And you are left to wonder where the next win is coming from.

Saints would have expected to get at least a couple of victories - not points - from home games against Newcastle and Ospreys and away matches against Worcester and Sale.

But they couldn't manage it, and now they face a Swansea fixture against a fired-up Ospreys, who fully believe they can make the quarter-finals.

Games against champions Exeter and free-flowing Harlequins will follow before the conclusion of the year.

And unless Saints find some quick solutions - something Mallinder admits he hasn't been able to do of late - then they are in real trouble.

No one likes to see such a great club suffer in the manner Saints have recently, especially those who care so deeply about events at the Gardens.

And gut-wrenchingly, the events of Saturday evening signalled that there appears to be no prospect of that suffering ending any time soon.

How they rated...


Was forced to switch to fly-half early in the game and although his kicking from hand wasn't the best, his interplay was impressive and his try was the best moment in the match... 5


Like Mallinder, he had a big say towards the end of the game, scoring once and helping to set up a try with a tidy offload... 5


Made some big hits early on and also managed to write his name on the scoresheet during the second half... 5


No shortage of physicality from the centre, who made a couple of big hits, but he didn't have much front foot ball to work with... 4


Wasn't able to have much of an impact in an attacking sense and Ospreys got a numerical advantage out wide to make Saints pay on a couple of occasions... 4


Was forced off very early on due to concussion and consequently had no chance to impact the game


The scrum-half showed some real drive and determination to score his try, but it was too little, too late... 5


Came in for the injured Alex Waller and was not able to have a say in the game as Ospreys turned up the heat... 3


The skipper scored a second try in as many home matches, but he couldn't lead his team to victory... 5


Has been given a run in the tighthead role and he always provides some energy in that position but this was a tough day... 3


Was making a long-awaited return from injury and though he did a couple of good things during the first half, he couldn't use his physicality to overpower Ospreys... 3


Admitted he missed a tackle that led to a try and this wasn't an easy return from injury for a man who usually has such a big impact for Saints... 3


Topped the carry count as usual, but couldn't help his team bounce back on this occasion... 5


The flanker is undoubtedly a huge prospect, but this wasn't an easy day for him and his team-mates... 3


Always gives everything he has got and he made more tackles than any other Saints player as well as the joint second most carries... 5

Replacements (who played more than 20 minutes)

JP ESTELLES (for Myler 19)

Certainly tried to get involved making the joint second most carries and the most metres for Saints, but he wasn't able to get on the scoresheet... 5

CAMPESE MA'AFU (for van Wyk 53)

Came on to try to help Saints get some extra force into their pack and didn't do too bad a job... 6

MICHAEL PATERSON (for Ribbans 53)

Always a steadying influence in the side and he came on at a time when Saints just started to fight back... 6

JAMIE GIBSON (for Day 57)

Put himself about, bringing welcome energy to the team and helping them to score four more tries before the end... 6

CHRON STAR MAN - Dan Evans (Ospreys)