Tom Vickers’ Saints v Gloucester preview: No excuses now for Mallinder’s men

When the phrase ‘Why not us?’ started being bandied about following Saints’ superb league win at Exeter last month, there was always the potential it could backfire.

By Tom Vickers
Friday, 8th February 2013, 11:59 am

A European exit and an LV= Cup calamity later and some fans can be forgiven for asking ‘Why us?’ as the team prepare to make a final tilt at the Premiership title.

So, now is the time for Saints to prove just why the paying public should believe in them.

Quite simply, there are no excuses left.

When top-four rivals Gloucester come calling in a crucial Premiership clash on Saturday, there will be no get-out clause should Northampton fail to win.

Players were rested in the LV= Cup loss at Exeter last weekend, meaning the big guns should be fit and firing.

Both teams have key men missing, with Saints losing Tom Wood, Courtney Lawes and Dylan Hartley to England and Gloucester without the likes of Billy Twelvetrees and Jim Hamilton.

It will be two good teams going head to head, and may the best prevail.

As for Saints’ hopes beyond that game, there’s no reason why they should not challenge for the league crown.

In previous seasons they have had LV= Cup semi-finals and finals or Heineken Cup knockout clashes to worry about. Not this time.

They will have four weekends off before the end of the campaign, and can stay fresh while Leicester, Saracens and Harlequins do battle for the Heineken Cup crown.

Sarries and Quins also have the LV= Cup semi-finals to worry about, so they cannot yet throw all their eggs in the Premiership basket. Saints can.

They are not shattered by the loss of stars to international duty this season, with only the three previously mentioned men away. Pivotal players Ben Foden and Lee Dickson remain.

And, without wishing to curse the situation, there’s no laundry list of injury victims, with Paul Diggin and Brian Mujati the only first-teamers currently sidelined.

Both of those are back running and could be available in the not too distant future.

The question of quality is, of course, the most pressing point of all.

Saints’ doubters will point to the fact Jim Mallinder’s men have not won any of their previous nine meetings with the big three, Tigers, Quins and Sarries.

It’s a valid point, but it must be remembered they were inches away from winning their most recent meeting with one of those sides.

Saracens escaped, as Stephen Myler’s last-gasp kick rebounded back off the stadium:mk crossbar on the final day of 2012.

And Saints have already won away against an Ulster team who would – and will when they meet the Fezheads at Twickenham in April - give any of the English elite the toughest of games.

So, plenty of rest, a lack of injuries, and no shortage of ability. Why not Saints, indeed.