Saints flanker Gibson not fazed by his lack of starts
Had you asked Saints supporters at the end of last season who would be the first name on Chris Boyd's teamsheet for the 2018/19 campaign, many would have said Jamie Gibson.
The flanker was a leading contender for the club's players' and supporters' player of the year prizes last season, understandably losing out to Rob Horne, who was forced to retire in April.
During a hugely disappointing and turbulent campaign, Horne and Gibson were shining lights for Saints.
And you would have foreseen Gibson being a certain starter even though sizeable changes were made to the coaching team during the summer.
But new boss Boyd has shown that last season's performances mean nothing in his regime, stressing there would be a clean slate for all at Franklin's Gardens.
And that has meant that Gibson has not been so certain to start after all.
In fact, he was not even in the squad for the Gallagher Premiership opening-day game at Gloucester until James Haskell was forced to withdraw due to a back problem.
Since then, Gibson, who came off the bench at Kingsholm, has started just one of the following three games, being used as a replacement in the other two.
But you won't hear the former Leicester Tigers flanker moaning, as he understands the need to make an impression on the new coaches as well as realising that rotation is important in keeping the squad fresh during another long campaign at the coalface.
"It's a long season and I've enjoyed it so far," said Gibson, who was given the nod to start in the No.6 shirt at Bath last Saturday.
"My performance level has gone up each game and I'm getting back to where I want to be, where I felt I played most of last season at.
"We've got a lot of quality in the back row this season, a lot of depth and the nature of the year is that you need to keep people fresh where you can.
"As a player you want to play every game you can and the coaches are going to have a bit of a headache to manage that as the season goes on.
"Every player is pushing each other and enjoying it."
So did Gibson, who made 29 appearances last season, starting in 25 of those, feel he played too much during the previous campaign?
"I'd play every single game if I could," he said.
"I guess it's a balance for the coaches to take and the fresher you are, the more impact you can have.
"But you want to string games together because it builds confidence, it gets you on a run.
"It's up to the coaches and for me it's about playing and seeing what I can do.
"We have got a very different back row balance this year and the way we're playing suits that.
"Depending on who we're playing against, it's going to affect how we do things.
"We've got players coming in who won't affect the quality."
Gibson is enjoying the new era at the Gardens.
He added: "It's been really good.
"There has been a lot of emphasis on development.
"We've not quite clicked how we want to but you can see from the problems we've caused when we have got it right that we're going in the right direction.
"The general atmosphere is one of frustration but it's very positive frustration because we feel we're very close to doing what we want to do."
Saints have lost three of their opening four games going into Saturday's trip to newly-promoted Bristol.
That has left Boyd's men sitting 11th in the early-season standings.
But Gibson said: "Until December, the table doesn't mean a lot because all it takes is a few games, momentum builds and sides can move a long way.
"If you look at the last few years, Sarries moved a long way last year, Leicester have traditionally started badly and moved on.
"You never want to start badly but it's still very early days and it's as much about the process as it is about results.
"We need to keep building where we're going and it will turn our way.
"As you get towards the end of the year, the table starts to matter, but most players only look at what day it is and who they're playing next.
"We just know we're four games in, we've had two at home, won one of those and we feel we should have picked up one or two wins away from home but we haven't done that.
"We've got Bristol this weekend and Leicester the week after so it's about containing a dangerous Bristol side and seeing what happens from there."
Bristol have won two of their four matches to date, beating Bath and Harlequins at home as well as giving Gloucester and Saracens a scare on the road.
And Gibson said: "They've got a lot of good players and they're well coached.
"They're a high emotion team so if they get things right and you get it slightly wrong, they're going to cause a lot of problems.
"They'll play from anywhere so it will be an exciting game and it's about us putting our stamp on it and going from there."