Francis feels Saints should still be feared

Piers Francis feels Clermont have reason to fear wounded Saints (picture: Kirsty Edmonds)
Piers Francis feels Clermont have reason to fear wounded Saints (picture: Kirsty Edmonds)

Over the years, Saints have regularly ripped up the form book in the European Cup.

They have overcome soul-destroying defeats in short spaces of time perhaps more than any other side in Europe.

In 2012, Ulster cruised to a 25-6 win at Franklin’s Gardens before being beaten 10-9 by a resurgent Saints on the following weekend.

Two years later, it was Leinster who were caught napping in the second part of the December double-header as Saints shocked the Irish side in Dublin just a week after being hammered 40-7 at the Gardens.

And in 2015, Jim Mallinder’s men restored pride in rapid fashion as they held Racing 92 to a 9-9 draw at the Gardens one weekend after they had been hammered 33-3 in Paris.

But beating Clermont Auvergne at Stade Marcel Michelin this Saturday would top the lot.

Saints were savaged at home by Saracens last Sunday, shipping eight tries in an overwhelming 57-13 defeat.

It was a record Gardens loss for Northampton, who will head to France this weekend with wounds that need to heal quickly.

But Clermont, who were beaten in last season’s Champions Cup final by Saracens, will be in no mood to dish out sympathy.

Les Jaunards are a formidable force on home soil, as they showed when brutally beating Saints 37-5 in the Champions Cup quarter-finals in 2015.

But Saints have to believe.

And if Piers Francis’s attitude is anything to go by, they genuinely feel their hosts should not sleep easily before this weekend’s battle.

“If anything, Clermont are going to be aware of us and the fact we’ll be hurting, just like Gloucester were when we went there (and lost 29-24 earlier this month),” Francis said.

“Clermont have got a hurting Saints side and even though I’ve only been here a short time, I can assure you that’s a fearful thing to have.

“We’ll front up this Saturday.”

Saints fans could be forgiven for not putting too much faith in those words, given the gap in class that currently appears to exist between their team and Europe’s elite.

But the players have to have confidence because if they walk in fearing a repeat of last Sunday’s events, that is exactly what will occur.

And Francis, who has tasted defeat on both of his competitive appearances for Saints since joining from Super Rugby side Auckland Blues during the summer, is urging his team to learn their lessons from last weekend.

“Saracens do the basics really well and individually they all know where they’re going,” said the 27-year-old, who has been starting at inside centre. “They’ve all got their roles and collectively it comes together.

“You know what’s coming from them and the trouble is that they do it so well, regardless of the fact you know what’s going to happen you’ve got to defend it and combat it.

“We’ve got to take our lessons looking forward.”

Saints haven’t exactly got a lot of time to learn.

So what are the key work-ons ahead of this weekend?

“We had it down as a key area to front up and be physically good last Sunday, but when we go in ones and not as a collective, it’s tough to be physical,” Francis said.

“We had this lesson seven weeks ago and obviously we haven’t learned.

“You don’t get too many second chances and we’ve got to move on and get better.

“Collectively, we’ve got to go into collisions and we’ll look back and say we’ve got to be better as a 23.

“We will do that, I can assure you.”