Saints happy with back-line balance, says attack coach King

Saints' backs impressed during the first half at Bristol last Sunday (picture: Kirsty Edmonds)
Saints' backs impressed during the first half at Bristol last Sunday (picture: Kirsty Edmonds)

Alex King says it was all about getting the balance right when deciding how much change was needed in Saints’ back line during the summer.

Last season, there was some criticism of the club’s attacking game, with some fans frustrated with displays, particularly at Franklin’s Gardens.

But Saints did show their ability in impressive wins at the likes of Harlequins, Saracens and Gloucester during the second half of the season.

And when it came to recruitment, they added South African scrum-half Nic Groom and Juan Pablo Estelles to the mix.

Other clubs recruited even more heavily in their backs division, with Leicester signing JP Pietersen and Matt Toomua, and Wasps capturing Willie Le Roux, Danny Cipriani and Kyle Eastmond, among others.

And when asked about Saints’ back-line evolution, attack coach King said: “We’ve grown up over the last four years since I’ve been here.

“The guys get to know each other really well and guys like Ace (Ahsee Tuala) have come in to give us strength in depth.

“Unfortunately, we’ve got a couple of knocks with the younger guys, but we’ve got a steady back line.”

And when asked whether it is better to have a settled back line or one that includes plenty of fresh faces, King said: “There’s a balance because you want to keep asking questions of opposition defences and you don’t want to be too predictable in the way you play.

“There’s a balance of bringing players in who are going to change the dynamic and add things and ask more questions of opposition defences, but you don’t want to be changing too much sometimes because you lose that fluidity and people’s ability to understand other people’s games.

“It’s the job of myself and the other coaches to make sure we get that right blend.”

Saints looked sharp during the first half of last Sunday’s win at Bristol, surging into a 25-3 lead at the break before eventually claiming a bonus-point 32-10 victory.

And Jim Mallinder’s men will now look to take that belief into a huge clash with Saracens at Allianz Park this afternoon (kick-off 3pm).

“We understand there will be tougher assignments (than the one at Bristol) and there’s no tougher assignment than Saracens away this weekend,” King said.

“But we go there with huge confidence because we’ve got a pretty good record there and it’s a great opportunity to test ourselves against the most consistent side who won a couple of trophies last season.

“You want to test yourself against the best teams and, at the moment, Saracens have shown they’re a top team.”

Saints will hope George North can reproduce last weekend’s impressive showing this weekend.

And King said: “I thought he played really well at Bristol.

“His work rate is phenomenal and coming off his wing to score his first try of the season was good for him and the team.

“He’s just going to get better and better.

“We’re lucky to have him and the more tries he scores, the better we’re playing.”

Louis Picamoles is another big-name player in Saints’ armoury for the trip to Barnet.

“Louis has been great for us, he’s starting to understand his role and he’s just going to get better and better,” King said.

“He wants to play in big games and playing against the current England No.8 (Billy Vunipola) is a massive motivation for him.”

Saints won at Allianz Park in the league last season before losing a thrilling Champions Cup quarter-final to the eventual double winners later in the campaign.

And King feels his side have every reason to be bullish ahead of the renewal of rivalries with Saracens.

“We were 10 minutes away from creating a shock down there in April and our record down there will give us confidence,” he said.

“We like playing on that surface, it’s going to be a dry day as well and you’ve got two top teams who want to go out and play.”