Tom Vickers’ Northampton v Leicester preview: Time for Saints to prove they are more than ‘best of the rest’

After Saints won at Exeter in early January, Sky Sports pundit Stuart Barnes made a comment that will have stuck with anyone of a Northampton persuasion ever since.

By Tom Vickers
Friday, 29th March 2013, 9:21 am
DERBY DISAPPOINTMENT - Saints have lost their past six games against Leicester Tigers (Picture: Linda Dawson)
DERBY DISAPPOINTMENT - Saints have lost their past six games against Leicester Tigers (Picture: Linda Dawson)

Barnes issued a back-handed compliment, claiming Jim Mallinder’s men were ‘the best of the rest’ in the Premiership this season.

He was referring to the fact Saints had failed to beat any of the current top three - Leicester, Saracens and Harlequins – in any of their past nine games against them.

Yet they had seen off Gloucester, Bath and then the Chiefs at Sandy Park, crushing well-established citadels in the process.

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But Barnes’s query remains: Do Saints have enough quality to beat the big guns?

This weekend, they get the chance to show they do. And on the biggest stage of all, against local rivals Leicester Tigers.

Richard Cockerill’s tricky side have claimed the bragging rights in the past six meetings between the two clubs. Saints have been left in the shadows.

But a good win on Saturday would not only ensure fans go into work on Monday with a smiles on their faces, it would also see Northampton move a step closer to a Premiership play-off place.

Saints could go second with a win, should they deprive the Tigers of a losing bonus point and Harlequins fail to beat Gloucester on Friday night.

It would be a remarkable turnaround following the defeat to Gloucester last month, which saw Mallinder’s team drop to sixth in the standings.

If that was the season’s nadir, a win on Saturday would be the apex.

Saints would not only have ended their hoodoo against their fierce rivals, but they would rob Barnes and other pundits of the stick that has been used to beat the club this season.

The performances against Saracens and Quins at the Gardens, both of which ended in defeat, were lethargic, and much more intensity will be needed on Saturday.

But Saints almost beat Saracens away, losing 17-16 as Stephen Myler’s last-minute kick hit the bar, and gave a good account of themselves in the 16-12 defeat at Tigers in November.

Now they need to produce the performance and the positive result on their own turf and prove to everyone that they can upset the top-four apple cart this season.