Charlie Sharples is not fooled by Northampton Saints’ indifferent start as Gloucester Rugby aim to inflict a fourth defeat of the league season on their hosts this Friday.
It has been an inauspicious opening to the season for 2013/14 Aviva Premiership Rugby champions Northampton, and should they lose to Gloucester it will be the first time they have lost three in a row at Franklin’s Gardens since 2011.
Indeed their only victory in their last six league matches came against Newcastle Falcons last month but there are signs that Jim Mallinder’s men are beginning to click into gear.
A home win against Scarlets in the European Rugby Challenge Cup was followed by an even more impressive victory at Scotstoun over Glasgow Warriors.
And Gloucester wing Sharples, whose side are vying for a return to the top half of the table this season, says clashes like this are an acid test.
“Everyone knows Northampton have a quality team and they will be or thereabouts come the end of the season – it’s going to be a tough game regardless of where they are in the table,” he said.
“It’s a real challenge for us, going up there to mix it with one of the best in the league.
“There’s some logic when you look at past history, you need to be winning most of your home games to compete for the Premiership but importantly you need to win half of your games on the road.
“You can only approach every game from a performance perspective and from our point of view, we know we can beat any team in the league on our day.
“It’s about maintaining that level of performance throughout your whole XV.”
The Cherry and Whites have to go back to September 2013 for their last victory over Saints but director of rugby David Humphreys, in his second season in charge, is bringing noticeable improvement to Kingsholm.
Their only defeat in the last four matches in all competitions was at Wasps in Round 4 of Aviva Premiership Rugby and Northampton No.8 Sam Dickinson insists his side cannot afford to bask in their recent Champions Cup success.
“Gloucester are in a similar position in the table to us, so I think we can expect an interesting game,” said Dickinson. “Their forwards are strong and will try and dominate, so it’s important we look to keep the ball away from them as much as possible.
“We are going to need a total performance across the team to win this.
“We proved a point in Europe. We have not started the season well, but I think these results can help bring the momentum back.”
Franklin’s Gardens, 7.45pm – Live on BT Sport
Referee: Greg Garner (86th Premiership game).
Assistant Referees: Paul Dix & Ashley Rowden. TMO: David Sainsbury.