Jim Mallinder believes new club captain Tom Wood is the perfect example to his Northampton Saints side as they target a top-four Aviva Premiership Rugby finish.
Wood took over the Saints’ armband from scrum-half Lee Dickson and the hard-hitting England back-row could form an exciting partnership with France No.8 Louis Picamoles.
Saints finished as league-leaders in 2014-15 before losing in the semi-final to eventual champions Saracens and Mallinder is targeting a return to the top four after a fifth-place finish last year.
Todd Blackadder’s Bath Rugby side travel to Franklin’s Gardens first up on Saturday and Mallinder thinks that Wood – alongside with Dickson and England captain Dylan Hartley – can lead his side to an opening day win.
“Tom is refreshing, he leads by example, leads from the front, he is a very honest hard-working guy and he is somebody who the players admire and will follow,” Mallinder said.
“We are without a doubt aiming to challenge for the trophy. If you asked most directors of rugby, they would tell you that they want to make the top four.
“Clearly that is our aim, that is where we have been the majority of the time that I have been here. We need to make the top four and see where we go.
“We have got some good leaders, Dylan Hartley has done a brilliant job, Lee Dickson captained the side last year during the World Cup and then Tom Wood has come in now.
“Hopefully their leadership abilities will help to drive the team forward. Tom has more responsibilities, but he is doing it his own way, just as Dylan did and Lee did.”
Saints lost to then-Aviva Premiership Rugby newboys Worcester Warriors on opening night last year and Mallinder is keen to build momentum from the outset this season.
And with England internationals Courtney Lawes, Hartley and Teimana Harrison returning from a victorious summer tour of Australia, the Saints director of rugby feels they have brought added impetus to the group.
“Last season was difficult, we didn’t have the best of pre-seasons and that led to a start when we won one of our first four games. That really does put you on the back foot,” he said.
“Most of our players have been training hard, our players joining the group a little bit later, but they are really refreshed and have come in and added something new to what we have.
“We have been making sure everyone is fit, robust, ready to play and making sure our tactical game in attack and defence is prepared for a long season.
“We are in a good place and looking for a good start. Bath is vitally important, particularly being at home it is vital that you get off to a flying start.
“We know a lot of the Bath players, but we do not know what style of rugby they will be playing, new coach, new director of rugby. We want to work hard, make sure our game is up to speed.”
Start the Aviva Premiership Rugby Season in style with two games from £25 at Twickenham. Harlequins v Bristol Rugby and Saracens v Worcester Warriors in the London Double Header, 3 September. Tickets available from ticketmaster.co.uk