The Aviva Premiership returns at Halloween for one week only. Friday night will see two under pressure coaches; Jim Mallinder and Laurie Fisher, go head-to-head at Franklin’s Gardens.
Northampton Saints and Gloucester Rugby lie ninth and tenth respectively in the standings, and defeat will see one left behind from the mid-table pack, as the league table starts to take shape. It will be a ‘friday night fright’ for the team who comes second.
These two have had contrasting experiences over the first two European fixtures. The Cherry and Whites notched up two morale-boosting, bonus point victories over Bayonne and Treviso in the European Challenge Cup. By comparison, the Saints edged past Montpellier in Round One then received a battering from Castres by 41-7. Coupled with only two Premiership wins so far, the 2014 champions appear to have some issues.
Jim Mallinder under pressure?
Northampton have a management model that Gloucester would like to emulate. Jim Mallinder has been Director of Rugby there since 2007. In that same time, Gloucester are onto their fourth boss after several failed revolutions. So, is it time for some fresh faces at the Gardens? Mallinder’s supporters may say no.
As with Gloucester in 2008, the Saints finished top of the league but failed to reach the play-off final. The following season Gloucester fell out of the play off places altogether, just as Northampton did last season. At that point Dean Ryan was dismissed from Kingsholm. Mallinder remains to fight another season, but surely another season outside the play offs will leave him with questions to answer.
Following the disastrous result in Castres, Jim Mallinder has a big task to deliver a home victory on Friday. His side have already been beaten at home by Bath and Wasps already in 2016. Another defeat, which would lift the visitors above them, would set more alarm bells ringing in the East Midlands.
Time to deliver for Fisher
Arguably, Gloucester head coach Laurie Fisher is under ‘even more pressure’ as he has failed to deliver a Premiership home victory–and only one win in the opening six games. Rumours this week that big name players Ben Morgan, Matt Kvesic and James Hook may all be leaving at the end of the season are not promising. This will impact badly on recruitment. If international players are jumping ship others will stay away.
Kvesic should have been nailed down as a starter for England in the Autumn internationals, given their injury list. However his form has suffered during his side’s poor start to the season and is struggling to even start for his club.
Building to climb up the table
Gloucester have been in mid-table obscurity for a number of years now. Fans are split between optimists who believe the team are building to climb up the table while others fear they have ‘further to sink’ and could eventually be involved in a relegation battle. The result on Halloween Friday will give a good insight into the club’s direction for this season.
Fans will be out in force, celebrating the yearly theme. A ‘friday night fright’ could bring smiles or sorrow for either side, as confidence will be low in both camps. If either side make a strong start, then it could mentally kill off their opponents early. More likely it will evolve into a cagey, tactical game with neither side wishing to cede ground. In other words, a frightfully good nights footy.
The Aviva Premiership at its best then.