Weekend off has come at the ideal time for Saints

Had Saints not lost to Ulster earlier this month, they would be heading to Welford Road again this weekend.

Chris Boyd
Chris Boyd

But, in truth, what a relief it is for them that they are not.

Yes, they would have liked to have been involved in the Challenge Cup semi-finals.

But with injuries stacking up, it is questionable what kind of team they would have been able to field against Tigers for the second time in as many weeks.

The squad is, of course, pretty deep these days.

But there is no doubt a weekend off is exactly what they need ahead of a five-game sprint at the end of the Gallagher Premiership regular season.

Saints have huge matches against Gloucester, Wasps, Newcastle Falcons, Exeter Chiefs and Bath ahead.

They probably need to win at least four of them to have any hope of earning a Premiership play-off place.

And whatever way you look at it, that has to be the main goal for this club.

Because although some will say they don’t have a chance of winning the league this season, stranger things have certainly happened in sport.

And if you put yourself in position, you just never know what will happen.

Take 2013 when Saints were huge underdogs heading to Saracens for a play-off semi-final.

Jim Mallinder’s men marched to Allianz Park and emerged with an incredible win.

They didn’t complete the job as Dylan Hartley was sent off as Leicester won the grand final at Twickenham.

But Saints had got there and had Hartley not seen red, there is every chance Mallinder’s men may have won their first, and so far only, Premiership title a year earlier than they did.

Saints have been in fine form in 2021, winning six of their seven away matches.

So if they can set up a meeting at Bristol, where they nearly won in December, or Exeter, where they did win in February, they will believe they have a chance.

If they had to go and push the players into action again this weekend though, those chances would be slimmer.

Saints need as much rest as they can get as they look to target each and every remaining game this season.

They lost three players before the game had even begun at Welford Road last weekend, with Teimana Harrison, Ehren Painter and Ollie Sleightholme all scratched from the teamsheet.

“Teimana Harrison had a little hamstring strain and we were hoping that would be okay on the morning of the game but it wasn’t,” said Saints boss Chris Boyd.

“Then we had two back spasms, one to Ollie Sleightholme and one to Ehren Painter, so it’s really disappointing for those three guys, but life goes on.”

So, three players replaced before kick-off, and two players off before the second half started as Alex Mitchell and Piers Francis were able to play no further part.

Mitchell suffered what appeared to be a leg injury, while Francis’s shoulder popped out of its socket twice as he tried to battle on.

Then there was Dan Biggar, who was in the middle of a brutal battle.

Biggar looked likely to have to come off with five minutes to go, which would have left Saints two men short as JJ Tonks had just been sin-binned.

But despite having been helped from the field by two members of the medical staff, Biggar managed to return, making a try-saving tap tackle on Jasper Wiese as Saints somehow survived to claim a 23-18 win on derby day.

It was a performance that required every ounce of effort, and one that you feel will take its toll on Tigers when they host fresh and firing Ulster tonight.

For Saints, it’s time to put their feet up ahead of the run-in.

And boss Boyd said: “There are a lot of battered and bruised bodies and this week off has probably come at a good time.

“Most of the players will be sensible about it because normally in this situation when you have a window like this, everyone would be jumping on a plane to fly to Portugal or Spain or Croatia or Cape Verde or somewhere but that’s not possible in the current environment.

“Most guys will have a fairly cautious time.

“We come back with two games, Gloucester at home and Newcastle away, which are important games for us, so we’ve got to get our heads right for those.”