Harlequins vs Northampton Saints – Report – Aviva Premiership 2018 – 30 Dec, 2017

Rugby


Alan Gaffney will have little doubt about the size of the task facing him at Northampton Saints following their 50-21 Aviva Premiership defeat to Harlequins at Twickenham.

It is unclear how much of Saints’ season the incoming technical coaching consultant — who arrives in the UK Sunday — will have seen at home in Australia, but he would need only a tape of this game. His new side’s shortcomings were on display for all to see in south-west London.

Gaffney officially begins his new role on Jan. 1 and the first issue on his agenda at Franklin’s Gardens must be to instil some confidence in a side that has now lost 12 of its last 13 matches in all competitions.

Belief is a tricky thing. Northampton began on the front foot in front of a bumper crowd of 77,825 at Twickenham, but having kept their hosts penned inside their own 22 for the opening four minutes it drained from the visitors completely as Quins turned the tables.

From then on the writing looked to be on the wall for a Saints side whose last visit to Twickenham ended in a similar humiliation at the hands of Saracens.

But it was the speed with which the team capitulated that should worry Gaffney. Once Dave Ward had burst through a hole in the Northampton defence and onto a fine pass from Kyle Sinckler, the floodgates opened.

It only took the hosts 10 minutes more to score another two tries — through Charlie Walker and Tim Visser — while the latter had a score disallowed for a foot in touch and the bonus point was wrapped up with little over half an hour on the stadium clock.

Quins do favour an expansive game but at times it looked as though Northampton had forgotten how to defend as they were carved open almost at will.

Gloucester coach Johan Ackermann has spoken this season about helping his players learn to love defence and that is something that Gaffney — a backs coach by trade — must help instil a similar passion for the dark arts at Saints. Too many experienced players — Harry Mallinder and Ben Foden among them — made mistakes when it mattered most.

Overall it was not pretty for the visitors, who missed 32 tackles in all as Quins enjoyed almost two-thirds possession and territory.

Saints did recover in the second half — as they did against Saracens here in September and against Ospreys earlier this month — crossing the whitewash twice after James Chisholm had been sent to the sin bin. But the damage had already been done, and that the team consistently finds itself in these positions speaks to a wider problem.

“We didn’t control the game,” Northampton coach Alan Dickens said after the game. “The game was done inside 30 minutes which was very disappointing.”

Dickens, who visited Gaffney in Australia last summer, added: “I put it down to confidence. It looked like, to me today, they score a couple of tries and our heads go down. I’ve been asked about it in terms of the formula, ‘what do we need to do?’

“To get the confidence, ultimately I think we need to win.”

Gaffney will wipe the slate clean, of course, when he officially starts work on Monday and well he should. But injuries were not kind on Northampton at Twickenham, the club possesses a squad stacked with fine players, from Dylan Hartley, through to Courtney Lawes, Tom Wood, Luther Burrrell and George North — although the latter hobbled off minutes into his return.

But the Australian needs to find a way to give his new side the confidence in attack and defence that will unlock its potential. He needs to make sure that this result is rock bottom, and not just another below par performance to add to the rest.

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