Tom Vickers’ Northampton Saints v Exeter Chiefs preview
When Saints’ squad for the Aviva Premiership opener was announced on Friday afternoon, a wave of optimism washed over social networking sites and messageboards.
It was easy to see why, with the names of British & Irish stars George North and Alex Corbisiero among the starting 15.
Add to that the increased firepower on the bench, with Kahn Fotuali’i sitting with the likes of James Wilson and Jamie Elliott, and the excitement had reached fever pitch.
Plenty of fireworks are expected on the first day of the new season, with the entertaining Exeter Chiefs the visitors.
But it must be remembered that the Saints team that takes to the field at Franklin’s Gardens is still a work in progress.
North and Corbisiero have had limited game time during pre-season due to their Lions commitments, playing just 70 minutes each across two games.
Samoan scrum-half Fotuali’i, a summer recruit from Ospreys, has seen even less action, missing the final two friendlies as a precaution.
It means Alex King, the new attack coach who has arrived from Heineken Cup runners-up Clermont Auvergne, has not had too much game time to work with some of his new charges.
King’s va va voom from across the Channel will show itself in time, but for now no one should be expecting Saints to be rugby’s answer to the Harlem Globetrotters.
At Leinster last Friday night, they were far from that, as their offensive game appeared to be under construction.
The Irish side stifled Saints, choking their chances of getting the ball to big runners such as North and Burrell.
Exeter will be expected to do the same, with Rob Baxter’s men hoping to cause what would be a considerable shock considering the Chiefs’ injury list, early in the campaign.
As they did in Dublin last week, Saints will have to get over the line however they can, a point made strongly by boss Mallinder in the build-up to the game.
The sparkly stuff can come in time, but for now it’s about getting off to the best start possible, in whichever fashion necessary.