Tom Vickers’ Saints v Gloucester verdict and player ratings

ALWAYS A THREAT - Ken Pisi was a constant thorn in the Gloucester side (pictures: Sharon Lucey)
ALWAYS A THREAT - Ken Pisi was a constant thorn in the Gloucester side (pictures: Sharon Lucey)

It may only have been one game - but what a game it was.

Saints’ resounding 53-6 victory over Gloucester on Friday night was one for the Franklin’s Gardens faithful to savour.

Saints V Gloucester. NNL-140609-011741009

Saints V Gloucester. NNL-140609-011741009

It was 80 minutes of relentless rugby, played by a team who, from one to 23, were on top of their game.

Some had doubted whether they could retain the title they scrapped so hard for in May.

Questions were raised as to whether the appetite for Aviva Premiership glory had been sated.

And the answers were quickly provided on a night when Gloucester’s new breed were given a harsh lesson in their first competitive outing.

Saints V Gloucester. NNL-140609-011719009

Saints V Gloucester. NNL-140609-011719009

But this was not a night to think about what lies ahead.

Not a night to start assuming this victory means another title will be heading the Gardens next May.

It was a night for Northampton fans to revel in just how far their team has come.

Seven years ago, Saints, who had just installed Jim Mallinder as director of rugby, kicked off the new season at home to London Welsh in English rugby’s second tier.

Saints V Gloucester. NNL-140609-011625009

Saints V Gloucester. NNL-140609-011625009

A week later, they were travelling to Cornish Pirates’ Camborne home, a ground then Newbury coach Ben Ryan had claimed was unfit for first division rugby.

Fast forward to the modern day and Saints were starting the season at their Gardens home - which will be expanded next year - as top division champions.

Not only that, but they put a Gloucester team containing a Lions hooker, Richard Hibbard, and a former All Blacks prop, John Afoa, to the sword in ruthless fashion.

It was an evisceration of the sort you may have seen in those first division days, against the likes of Launceston and Esher.

Saints V Gloucester. NNL-140609-011910009

Saints V Gloucester. NNL-140609-011910009

In fact, the margin of victory was greater even than that first day in 2007, when Saints smashed Welsh 44-11 to kick off a season in which they were to win all 30 league games.

That was the start of a journey that has taken Mallinder’s men to this point.

To a point where, in George North, they can boast a Lions wing who, at just 22, is on his way to becoming a rugby great.

To a point where an England full-back, Ben Foden, starts on the bench and his replacement, James Wilson, displays the immense depth in the squad.

To a point where players the absences of key men such as Phil Dowson and Sam Dickinson purely serve to give players like Jon Fisher, a try-scoring debutant, the chance to star.

And to a point where, if you ignored the derby games against Leicester Tigers, Saints have won their last 13 home Premiership matches by an average score of 40-13.

Saints V Gloucester. NNL-140609-011953009

Saints V Gloucester. NNL-140609-011953009

So rather than what comes next, incidentally it is back-to-back away games at Wasps and Newcastle, supporters would be well advised to stand back and savour the moment.

Because seven years ago, as Saints prepared for that Pirates trip, what happened on Friday night would have been beyond even the wildest of dreams.

How they rated...

JAMES WILSON

An often underrated performer, who deserved huge acclaim for this display. Cut through Gloucester on numerous occasions and was in fantastic form... 8

KEN PISI

North stole the headlines on the opposite wing, but the contribution of this man can’t be overlooked. A constant thorn in the Gloucester side... 8

GEORGE PISI

Finished Stephen Myler’s expertly-executed chip through superbly and put in a gargantuan performance alongside Burrell... 8

LUTHER BURRELL

Scored two tries and set up one for North. Laid down a marker for an England centre spot by totally dominating Gloucester’s Billy Twelvetrees... 9

GEORGE NORTH - CHRON STAR MAN

Was angered by a savage off-the-ball hit from Gloucester’s Tom Savage during the first half and went on to exact the harshest revenge in the form of a fine hat-trick... 9

STEPHEN MYLER

The fly-half picked up where he left off last season, putting in a sensational performance that included superb assists for Pisi and North tries. Kicked brilliantly, too... 9

LEE DICKSON

So key to the up-tempo game Saints played from the off and barely gave Gloucester time to breath as his team flew forward at every opportunity... 8

ALEX CORBISIERO

Engaged in an enthralling battle with Gloucester new boy John Afoa but the Saints man did not find favour with referee Wayne Barnes, who penalised him on a couple of occasions... 7

DYLAN HARTLEY

The captain got his team going in a stirring display. Was part of a huge forward effort that laid the foundations for some eye-catching backs play... 7

SALESI MA’AFU

Started the season in much better shape than when he arrived last summer, and it showed as he maintained his energy levels in a good display... 7

COURTNEY LAWES

He and Manoa continued their big hits battle, with the England star getting through plenty of work as he refused to give Gloucester an inch... 8

CHRISTIAN DAY

Ensured the Saints lineout provided a good platform to build on and was key in ensuring the accuracy levels were at their peak... 7

CALUM CLARK

Huge energy from the flanker, who wouldn’t give Gloucester a second at the breakdown. Has the fight Saints need to maintain the levels of last season... 7

TOM WOOD

Epitomised the drive to push on from May’s double delight as he flew around the field, urging his team on... 8

SAMU MANOA

Made some jackhammer hits, including one that left Twelvetrees reeling, and it was another immense performance from the American idol... 8

Replacements (who played more than 20 minutes)

ALEX WALLER (for Corbisiero 50)

A great option from the bench and carried on the good work done by Corbisiero as Saints proceeded to score try after try... 7

GARETH DENMAN (for Ma’afu 50)

Continued the forward pressure as Gloucester were given no reprieve in any department. Can build on a fine first campaign this season... 7

JON FISHER (for Manoa 50)

A dream debut for the No.8, who wasted no time in opening his Northampton account by putting the finishing touches to a flowing team move... 8

KAHN FOTUALI’I (for Dickson 56)

So sharp during pre-season and carried that on here as he scored a clever try down the blindside. Not a bad man to bring off the bench... 8

JAMES CRAIG (for Lawes 58)

Is capable of having a big impact this season with Lawes and Manoa likely to be on international duty, and he started well here... 7

Saints V Gloucester. NNL-140609-011814009

Saints V Gloucester. NNL-140609-011814009