Tom Vickers' Northampton Saints season review

If you're someone of a Saints persuasion who prefers to see a glass as half empty, you will probably remember this season as a failure.

Saturday, 14th May 2016, 7:00 am
Teimana Harrison and Mike Haywood have been the stars of the season for Saints (pictures: Sharon Lucey and Kirsty Edmonds)

You will look at the fifth-placed finish and focus on the fact that your club has ended a campaign outside of the play-off places for the first time since 2009.

You will look at the plethora of games where your club was unable to realise the promise that preceded the season after Saints topped the Premiership for the first time.

But if you are a glass half full kind of person, you will probably feel fifth place wasn’t all that bad considering the brutal nature of the campaign and the number of injuries sustained.

Harry Mallinder scored the winning try for Saints against Glasgow in January

You will look at the ninth-placed finish of last season’s runners-up Bath and feel glad your team didn’t fall anywhere near that far.

You will probably sharpen your sights on the impressive group of young players who have more than stood up to be counted this season.

And you will probably go into the summer positive that your club can regain its place among English rugby’s top four teams next season.

The point is, there will be myriad different views on that 2015/16 campaign at Franklin’s Gardens.

Ben Foden scored a dramatic late try for Saints at Harlequins in February

From those within the club, there is a satisfaction that the side ended the season with back-to-back wins that booked a ticket to the Champions Cup.

But there is also disappointment and frustration that things didn’t quite get going during a season blighted by inconsistency.

Make no mistake, whether you are a positive or a negative person, you will have expected Northampton to be gracing the play-offs for the seventh successive campaign.

You will have expected them to build on finishing first last time round and push for silverware in Europe, too.

Stephen Myler dotted down as Saints beat Saracens in March

The strength is there in this squad to challenge on both fronts.

But several factors have contributed to what those on the less positive side of the fence would see as a season of underachievement.

The departure of Samu Manoa was always going to hit Saints hard.

The man who hogged the supporters’ player of the year prize dragged his side back into games by the scruff of the neck and carried them over the biggest obstacles - often Saracens!

Harry Mallinder scored the winning try for Saints against Glasgow in January

There was a reason why Toulon offered him a big-money deal and that was because he is a sheer phenomenon, a force of nature.

Saints also lost a man who starred for the Lions in 2013, Alex Corbisiero, in December.

And though Alex Waller has been making the No.1 shirt his own, there is no doubt Northampton would loved to have also been able to call on a fit and firing Corbisiero.

Calum Clark is another huge loss, with last season’s double player of the year suffering a shoulder injury that has meant he has been unable to feature in a single game this season.

Dylan Hartley has only started six matches due to concussion problemsand international commitments, while there have been other untimely injuries to the likes of Kieran Brookes, Kahn Fotuali’i and Ben Foden.

But Saints know it would be wrong to blame everything solely on the fact so many of their players have been sidelined.

Ben Foden scored a dramatic late try for Saints at Harlequins in February

After all, rugby is a pretty tough sport and bumps, bruises and breaks are, unfortunately, par for the course.

Saints know they let themselves down in away defeats to Worcester Warriors, London Irish and Newcastle Falcons.

Those losses to the struggling sides always looked likely to come back to haunt them. And so it proved.

But, back over the fence to the positive side, and there are plus points to be taken to the way Saints have bounced back.

They could have, as Tom Wood described it, ‘let the wheels fall off’ after the successive defeats to Wasps, Saracens and Leicester at the start of April.

But they didn’t, and men such as Wood and the stars of the season, Teimana Harrison and Mike Haywood, ensured they bounced back by beating Bath and Gloucester.

In fact, some of the end-of-season frustration will stem from the better victories because Saints have been left to wonder why they couldn’t do at Worcester, Irish and Newcastle what they did at Glasgow, Bath, Scarlets, Harlequins, Saracens and Gloucester.

They won at all those places, coming out on the right side of the margins when it mattered.

If they could have done that a few more times, this review would have been written a bit later.

And with the likes of Hartley and George North fit and firing again, who knows what could have been achieved.

But, like the season, the time for regrets has passed and now it is all about ensuring the positives far outweigh the negatives in the new campaign.

Stephen Myler dotted down as Saints beat Saracens in March