Northampton Saints boss Jim Mallinder has called for more consistency from his team after writing off their chances of a top four finish in the Premiership this season.
Saints were beaten 30-24 by Leicester Tigers on Saturday and have fallen seven points behind their East Midlands rivals with two rounds of the regular season to go.
Mallinder believes his side must now re-focus their efforts on securing a top six finish to ensure they qualify for next year’s European Champions Cup.
“We’ve learnt when you come up against some of the top sides, like we did last week, it’s difficult without your internationals,” he said.
“But what we’ve actually learnt is that you need to be consistently good throughout the season and we haven’t been that this year.
“We started off very very badly, we have made a valiant comeback over the past few months to push for the top four but it’s not been enough this year.
“We have got to make sure we seal a top six spot, that’s got to be our target now for the remainder of the season. We need to come back next year stronger.”
For the Tigers, Freddie Burns continued his strong form with 20 points in the game, but it was hooker Harry Thacker who drew the plaudits from his director of rugby Richard Cockerill.
The young hooker scored the Tigers first try in the 14th minute, attacking down the blind side to step through the Saints defensive line and dummying past the Saints full back to score under the posts.
“Harry Thacker’s try is probably try of the season, you won’t see a better one,” said Cockerill.
“He’s a great footballer, we saw that with the finish, the ball was in two hands and he’s tricked the full-back into chasing it.
“He’s got a great fend and he’s quick, he’s probably wasted at hooker really. It’s a great finish.”
Cockerill also praised Thacker’s reaction to criticism he received earlier in the season, in particular the way the Tigers scrum was destroyed against Saracens.
“Harry’s worked really hard, sometimes players have to work it out for themselves,” he added.
“Circumstances allowed him to get more opportunity and he’s taken the opportunity.
“Clearly he’s half the size of some hookers in the Premiership but what he gives you around the field, if he can cope in the scrum, he throws very well and he’s a great defender.”