With Northampton Saints suffering a surprise 22-16 home loss to Newcastle Falcons after prop Kieran Brookes saw red just before half-time, whispers regarding director of rugby Jim Mallinder’s future are quickly building into audible mutterings.
England prop Brookes used his shoulder to charge into hooker Scott Lawson and was promptly sent off. Mallinder himself offered no excuses for Brookes’ behaviour (via Northampton Herald and Post):
“What you can’t do is retaliate, you can’t strike anybody near the head and I think the referee had no option.”
But even if one can excuse the loss down to one player’s moment of glaringly poor ill-discipline, no one can do so regarding Saints’ poor performance overall, seeming to lack any kind of direction or structure.
It has been mostly the same viewing for the Franklin’s Gardens faithful for the majority of last season and the entirety of this season so far.
With Saints having won only four games from their nine Premiership fixtures so far, and suffered a truly embarrassing 41-7 humbling against fifth placed Top 14 side Castres, it is proving to be a season to forget; much like last season where the team finished fifth in the Premiership and dropped out of Europe after a quarter-final loss to eventual champions Saracens.
Yet despite all this, Mallinder continues to unravel positive platitudes to the press (via Northampton Herald and Post):
“We’d been doing well up until now, winning some good games and it’s a massive disappointment to lose at home, but it happens and we’ve got to just dust ourselves down again and look forward to going away to Leicester next week.”
Earlier this season former backs coach Alex King departed from Northampton after the club shunted the announcement of his leaving onto the end of an innocuous team sheet release on the club’s website, just the day before the team’s game against Montpellier.
It suggested all is not well at the club, and although King has an excellent track record as a coach from his time at Clermont Auvergne, he could not stop Saints from stuttering in successive matches. They continue to look disjointed and lacking in a clear philosophy or coherent approach to the game.
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No one in rugby wants to see the sacking merry-go-round farce that is part and parcel of Premier League football, with managers not even needing to unpack their things given the speed of their almost inevitable departure.
Yet the words ‘mutual consent’ seem to be flying around with regularity in professional rugby these days. One only has to think back to the ways in which ex-Bath coach Mike Ford and former Bristol boss Andy Robinson left their positions earlier this year to realise the sport is becoming increasingly business-minded and less sentimental, and ultimately ruthless.
Jim Mallinder has brought so much success to the club he took charge of back in 2007, taking the club from the embarrassment of relegation to immediate success, winning Challenge Cup trophies, Anglo-Welsh Cup glory, a Heineken Cup final and of course the first ever Premiership win of 2013/14.
However, in a way Mallinder is the architect of his own downfall. His success means the club and its supporters now demand the very best from its team, and mid-table finishes without any silverware are now very hard to swallow.
You couldn’t blame big stars like George North or recently-signed Louis Picamoles for having one eye on other destinations given the way the team is playing, and in order to stop the rot change is needed and quickly.
Whilst Mallinder has brought success to Northampton, it is time for him to step aside and a fresh set of ideas to be brought in to the club.
Paul Wassell, Pundit Arena
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