Season Review: Northampton Saints
It was all about building at Northampton Saints this season with a new coaching team in place, but the year had success with European Champions Cup qualification secured and a place in the Gallagher Premiership Rugby semi-finals.
On top of that, victory in the Premiership Rugby Cup ensured there were many highs this season, even if there were a few rocky moments along the way.
After a tumultuous time in 2017-18 when Saints finished in ninth, they began this season with a new man at the helm.
Director of rugby Chris Boyd joined Northampton in August when his season with the Hurricanes had finished and he combined with new faces Sam Vesty and Matt Ferguson to take charge.
After an inconsistent start Saints kicked into gear through the early rounds of the Premiership Rugby Cup and their new-found confidence was shown when they produced a 36-17 victory over Wasps in Gallagher Premiership Rugby.
Boyd was building a new style of rugby and it came to fruition when Northampton won seven home games in a row in all competitions from the middle of December.
For the final run-in Saints needed four wins out of four to have a good chance of making the semi-finals, they began with a last-minute victory over Harlequins in the first game and won the next two leaving fate in their own hands when they headed down to Exeter.
Although they did not get the win they needed at Sandy Park, Northampton finished fourth in the table on 56 points level with Harlequins and Bath Rugby, but crucially ahead on number of victories which secured them their first semi-final since 2015.
There have been many highs for Saints this season, one of which was changing the venue of the East Midlands derby from Franklin’s Gardens to Twickenham to honour former player Rob Horne who had to retire in 2018 due to injury.
Despite the 23-15 loss to Leicester Tigers, over 40,000 fans made the trip to HQ as money was raised for Horne and his family.
Thank you 2018/19 – what a ride! pic.twitter.com/gxI49SRNjq
— Northampton Saints 😇 (@SaintsRugby) 27 May 2019
A key moment in Northampton’s campaign was in the last match of 2018 when they recorded a 31-28 bonus-point victory over league leaders Exeter Chiefs.
And of course we have to mention the return of silverware to Franklin’s Gardens for the first-time since 2014 when they produced a stunning Premiership Rugby Cup campaign and recorded a 23-9 triumph in the final against Saracens.
One man in Black, Green and Gold who has caught the attention of Gallagher Premiership Rugby fans this season was scrum-half Cobus Reinach.
The South African was shortlisted for Gallagher Player of the Season and finished as joint top-scorer in the league with Denny Solomona as both players scored 12 tries.
Saints still have improvements to make in the pack but Lewis Ludlam, Teimana Harrison and Jamie Gibson all put a lot of hard yards in the engine room this season.
Meanwhile winger Taqele Naiyaravoro had a stormer of a first campaign as he topped the Gallagher Premiership Rugby statistics in several categories gaining 1,592 metres, making 46 clean breaks and beating 102 defenders.
Northampton’s progress in the Premiership Rugby Cup helped define their team by the end of the season as young players were given a chance to impress.
Full-back George Furbank became a regular in the backline while Rory Hutchinson, who was shortlisted for Land Rover Discovery of the Season, showed off sublime ball handling skills in attack.
The Scottish centre has received an international call-up as a result of his eye-catching performances in midfield.
Saints had ten academy players make their debuts for the senior team this season and one of those was Ollie Sleightholme, who came on in the Gallagher Premiership match against Wasps, scoring 15 seconds after entering the fray.
The young half-back pairing of Alex Mitchell and James Grayson also ensured their senior counterparts, Reinach and Dan Biggar, were kept on their toes, with Mitchell featuring for an England XV against the Barbarians.
Who’s in for 2019/20?
Saints have had a plethora of players promoted from the academy this year including: Ehren Painter, Fraser Dingwall, James Grayson, Alex Mitchell, Alex Moon and Josh Gillespie.
However, they also have some big names heading to Franklin’s Gardens in the form of double World Cup-winning All Black Owen Franks who is joining from the Crusaders.
Chris Boyd will also be reunited with one of his former players as utility back Matt Proctor swaps life at the Hurricanes for one in Northampton.
Who’s out for 2019/20?
A few big names are on their way out of Saints with Premiership title winners Luther Burrell and Ken Pisi both leaving the club after long stints.
Burrell is switching codes to play with Warrington Wolves while Pisi was one of five players released along with Andrew Kellaway and Nafi Tuitavake.
Jamal Ford-Robinson is heading to Gloucester while James Craig, James Haskell and Charlie Davies have all retired from rugby.
Once a Saint, Always a Saint
Thank you 👏🏼 pic.twitter.com/73cFmjK9oz
— Northampton Saints 😇 (@SaintsRugby) 23 May 2019