Jim Mallinder labelled Calum Clark ‘outstanding’ after the flanker made an impressive return to action in Saints’ 16-12 defeat to rivals Leicester Tigers.
The 23-year-old played the full 80 minutes as Northampton were outpointed by the Tigers, who claimed a gritty win thanks to Matt Smith’s second-half try and 11 points from fly-half George Ford.
Saints battled to the end but were hit by Ryan Lamb’s late sin-binning and just couldn’t find the final punch to knock out their bitter adversaries.
Clark kept his side going top the end, though, keeping his cool in his first game back from the 32-week ban picked up for an incident against the Tigers during the LV= Cup final in March.
And Mallinder said: “I thought he was outstanding. “To come back and play 80 minutes in such an intensive game as that was good.
“We’ve got no doubts about Calum in terms of where he is. He’s one of our leaders. We’ve missed him and we’re glad he’s back.”
Lamb’s quartet of penalties had kept Saints in the game, but they couldn’t find the finish needed to cross the whitewash.
Smith’s early second-half score proved damaging and Mallinder admitted his frustration at his side’s lack of attacking edge.
“I’m pleased in terms of I thought generally our defensive game was very good, apart from the fact we conceded early in the second half, which is very frustrating,” he said.
“Generally we defended well but in attack they managed to slow us down, we didn’t get as much momentum as we would have liked and we didn’t have as many opportunities as we would have liked.”