Saints and Bath have paid the price in '˜competitive league'
This time last season, Saints and Bath were on their way to securing home play-off semi-finals in the Aviva Premiership.
But this year, the situation is very different for two of English rugby’s traditional powerhouses.
Saints, who topped the regular-season table for the first time in their history during the previous campaign, are currently sixth.
And they will need to ensure they finish no lower than that as they seek to secure a Champions Cup place for next season.
Meanwhile, in Bath, that ship has already sailed.
Mike Ford’s men have endured such a disappointing campaign, winning just eight of their 20 league games, that they are out of the top-six reckoning, languishing in ninth.
So just why have both teams failed to replicate the impressive campaigns they produced last time round?
“I just think it’s a competitive league and there’s fine margins between those in the top four and those outside it,” Saints attack coach Alex King said.
“There’s probably two or three games we should have won and didn’t - and we’re probably paying for that now.”
The defeat to Leicester on April 16 left Saints seven points adrift of fourth-placed Tigers.
That means if Richard Cockerill’s men win at home to Worcester Warriors on Saturday, Saints will definitely miss out on the play-offs for the first time since 2009.
And King said: “It’s been one of those seasons - a lot of competitive teams and a lot of teams winning games against those above them.
“It’s made for a really competitive fight going into the last two weeks, which is what you’d expect from a competition this tough.
“We’re in a scrap for the top six, we’re in a scrap for the top four and we’ll give it everything to try to finish the season on a high here on Saturday.”
Saints were missing as many as 11 first-team players for the 30-24 defeat to Leicester at Franklin’s Gardens.
And they used last weekend’s Champions Cup semi-final weekend to recharge the batteries ahead of their final two games.
“In a long season, it was our first break since September,” King said.
“We’re obviously disappointed to lose the derby against Leicester but the weekend off probably came at the right time just to rest a few of the bodies.
“We said after that game that we want to finish well.
“We’ve got two games to finish the season well and if other results go our way, we’ve still got a chance to finish in the top four.
“We’ll concentrate on ourselves and understand there’s still a lot to achieve.”