A Transfer of Power in the Aviva Premiership

The winds of change have been blowing through the East Midlands as Jim Mallinder and his coaching team have firmly established the Northampton Saints as a new powerhouse in the region, which is some feat considering their bitter rivals the Leicester Tigers have dominated the Aviva Premiership since its inception in 1987, winning 10 titles in the period.

The process has been gradual and carefully planned, culminating with the Saint beating the Tigers in an epic come from behind semi-final last year before going on to secure their first ever Aviva title against Saracens in the final at Twickenham.

This new found dominance was ruthlessly emphasised when the Saints beat the Tigers playing with 14 men for sixty mins in a recent league game, following the red carding of Dylan Hartley, outscoring their opponents 23 points to 19.

The signs prior to this have been encouraging with the Saints winning the European Challenge Cup in 2008-09 and 2013-14, the 2009–10 LV Cup as well as consistently maintaining a playoff position in the Premiership.

The Saints also reached the final of the 2010–11 Heineken Cup, the 2011–12 and 2013-2014 LV Cup and the 2012-13 Aviva Premiership.

The culmination of this transfer of power has been underpinned by the following key factors,

Strengthening of the squad

Securing the signatures of high profile internationals in George North, Khan Fotuali’i and Alex Corbisiero with perhaps the league’s best ever signing from obscurity in Samu Manoa has raised the profile of the squad.

In addition the development of a number of core English players into established internationals in Dylan Hartley, Tom Wood, Courtney Lawes, Ben Foden and Lee Dickson and an Academy of young players that is the envy of the Premiership, has provided Mallinder with options from the bench that were not available in previous seasons.

Selecting Stephen Myler as first choice fly half

This is perhaps the most significant factor in the Saints transformation.

Prior to this Mallinder adopted a rotation policy with Shane Geraghty/Myler and then Ryan Lamb/Myler but the decision to back Myler has not only raised his game to the next level and the fringes of the England team. This move has provided the Saints with a top class kicker with average success rate of over 80% who dictates the backlines moves with confidence and aplomb.

Adding Alex King to the coaching team

King, a former fly-half, was hired as attack coach in January 2013 after a successful stint at Clermont Auvergne and his contribution has resulted in the Saints’ try tally increasing by 30% and finishing top try scorers at the end of the 2013/2014 season.

“Alex has been really good for us,” said Mallinder at the ITV sports try of the year award in May last year.  “He has brought some new ideas and I think it is vital that you freshen up your coaching team and change things. There are different ways of approaching the game and he has brought that. He is a good attacking coach who enjoys looking at all opportunities, whether that is attacking through your maul and getting little plays off that, or putting the ball wide. He has a sharp sense of how to attack space.”

There is no doubt that that Mallinder and company are not resting on their laurels as the Saints are currently 6 points clear at the top of the Aviva Premiership after 12 games played.

This is despite not playing at their best in recent games by grinding out a win against Harlequins at Twickenham in the ‘Big Game 7’, with less than 25% possession, and beating a spirited Falcons team 39-31 on a cold Friday night fixture last week.

Flash in a pan the Tigers fans might shout from the stands but under Mallinder the Saints are developing into one of Europe’s top sides and who would bet against them going even further this year and winning the coveted double, the Aviva Premiership title and the inaugural Champions Cup?

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