Gibson feels Saints and Tigers can fight their way back to the top

From 2005 to 2014, the Premiership final always had a representative from the east midlands.

Thursday, 26th January 2017, 7:00 am
Jamie Gibson is ready to get stuck into his old team again (picture: Sharon Lucey)

Either Leicester Tigers or Northampton Saints, and in 2013 both, made it all the way to the silverware shootout.

Granted, Tigers made it more than Saints, earning final appearances in nine consecutive seasons before Saints faced Saracens at Twickenham in 2014.

But that year, which was one no Northampton fan who witnessed it will ever forget, as it saw the Premiership and Challenge Cup trophies brought back to the town, was to be the most recent time either a Tiger or a Saint graced the league’s biggest game.

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In 2015, Saints finished top of the table but were beaten in the semi-finals by Saracens, who saw off Bath in the final.

And last year, Saracens were again hoisting the silverware aloft after excelling against Exeter Chiefs.

For Saints and Leicester, making the top four, never mind the grand final, has become tougher and tougher during the past couple of years.

Saracens have started to dominate, while Wasps have re-established themselves as title challengers, Exeter have emerged impressively and Bath are now battlng for trophies.

Harlequins, champions in 2012, still harbour less cogent hopes of glory.

And it is not just at home that the east midlands sides have suffered, with both Leicester and Saints failing to make it past the pool stages in the Champions Cup this season.

Saints were smashed by Castres and Leinster in Pool 4, while Leicester were uttlerly eviscerated by Glasgow Warriors in a shocking 43-0 defeat at Welford Road last weekend.

The two traditional rivals will meet in Leicester’s back yard in an Anglo-Welsh Cup clash on Saturday.

So it was a good time to ask Jamie Gibson, currently a Saint, but formerly a Tiger, why he feels the east midlands powerhouses have had such a tough time of late.

“At the moment, the Pemiership’s tighter than ever before,” Gibson said.

“You see how well Bristol have been playing, Worcester are a dangerous side, especially at home, and Sale - look at the quality they’ve got.

“More than any other year before, there are no easy games and it puts pressure on sides, especially with international games and losing players to that.

“Others have got to come in and perform and there’s a lot of sides improving year on year.

“Anyone can beat anyone on their day and it makes it exciting for the neutrals.

“It can be a little bit frustrating at times, but if you look at the results of the last few years and midlands clubs have at least been in the top six for God knows how long.

“It may not have gone quite as swimmingly as people have been used to over the last five years, but there’s quality players throughout, sides are going to improve and keep swinging.”

So can Saints and Leicester get back to where both clubs feel they belong, in England’s top two?

“Everyone’s planning to do that,” Gibson said.

“Sarries have been good the past few years, Bath, Wasps, Exeter - there are some top, top sides.

“Any of seven sides if they are not in the top six, people will be like ‘what’s going on?’. But one of them has to be out in seventh place.

“You have to win all of your home games and you’ve got to fight.”

There will certainly be no shortage of fight this weekend, with Saints desperate to secure their first win at Welford Road since 2007 and Tigers hurting after that Glasgow debacle.

“They will want to go out and right the wrongs they feel from the week before,” Gibson said. “They’ll be hurting like we were in December after the big losses against Leinster.

“But the Anglo-Welsh is a competition we really want to do well in.”