Tom Vickers’ Saints v Saracens preview: Time to front up against main rivals
Three games, three defeats, one try scored and a points difference of minus 47.
That was Saints’ home record against their top-four rivals last season.
Saracens, Harlequins and Leicester Tigers came and went, each escaping with comfortable wins.
Saints barely pushed any of them, failing to show any spark as they fell limply to defeat at Franklin’s Gardens.
There was none of the fire shown against the same sides away from home.
No siege mentality, just struggle and toil.
This year, they know things must be different.
This year, top spot has to be the primary target.
It would most likely ensure Saints would avoid Leicester and Saracens, instead hosting a team they would be big favourites against.
Of course there are no guarantees, as Saints, who finished fourth last season, showed by smashing Saracens at Allianz Park in the play-off semi-final in May.
But you simply have to take the path of least resistance and you have to presume indefatigable Sarries and Tigers will finish in the top three.
That would leave one extra place, going to a team such as Quins or Gloucester.
And Saints would really fancy their chances against one of those at the Gardens, especially with the renewed belief being shown on home turf this season.
Northampton have demonstrated a new, more attacking approach this season.
Turning down kicks at goal early doors to turn the screw in the form of scoring tries.
Jamie Elliott emphasised that shift in attitude when he stressed Saints need to ‘go at’ Saracens this weekend.
He revealed how the accent had been placed on attacking rugby, on not giving teams a second to settle, on strangling them straight after kick-off at the Gardens.
They failed to do it in the early part of last season, but things changed towards the end of the campaign and that rich belief has continued into this campaign.
Three games, three wins, 13 tries scored.
That is Saints’ home record this season.
They were clinical against Exeter and Sale before shooting down Ospreys on Sunday.
The Welsh side did well to only ship three tries, with Saints hunting the bonus point and Jim Mallinder’s men had some regret they didn’t get it.
Chances came and went, but the key thing was the win to keep themselves in contention in Heineken Cup Pool 1.
Now they need to reign victorious on home turf again this weekend, as they bid to keep pace with Saracens in the chase for top spot in the Aviva Premiership.
Six points separate Mark McCall’s table-toppers and second-placed Saints, who will be desperate to ensure that gap does not increase.
With a banana skin of a trip to London Irish beckoning eight days later, home comforts are vital.
And Saints certainly have the tools for the task, with a backline barely affected by international call-ups.
Mallinder has chosen to rest George North, but Luther Burrell and Ben Foden are back after being released by England, while Kahn Fotuali’i also has a point to prove at nine.
Last time Sarries came to the Gardens, Saints were shut out, only amassing two Stephen Myler penalties in a 16-6 defeat.
This time, they will go out all guns blazing to ensure a very different outcome.