Northampton set for special season

Date published: August 2 2013

Northampton Saints seem destined for greater things in 2013-2014 after heavy investment in plenty of international talent.

Northampton Saints seem destined for greater things in 2013-2014 after heavy investment in plenty of international talent.

The assumption upon reaching the conclusion of a Saints era with the departures of Soane Tonga'uiha, Brian Mujati, Chris Ashton, James Downey and Roger Wilson over the last two seasons was that Northampton were on their way out – the spectre of that 2011 Heineken Cup Final defeat living on.

Instead ahead of the new season, the feeling about Northampton Saints is not one of doom, but of promise.

This is no surprise when you realise that Northampton's recruitment has been little short of eye-watering.

The mega-rich French titans may attract the majority of the world's superstars in today's game, but Northampton have bucked that trend with the recruitment of Alex Corbisiero, Kahn Fotuali'i and most importantly, George North.

Those Saints fans unaware of what North could offer were left with little doubt after watching him carve his way through Australia for one of the great British and Irish Lions tries in the first Test back in June.

North, frighteningly still only 21 years of age, possesses that ominous combination of speed and size that is uncontainable; a defensive coach's nightmare. What he will offer Northampton is that extra drop of talent needed to seal tight matches.

North's acquisition in many senses is not simply a coup for Northampton, but the entire Aviva Premiership – much as it is a hammer-blow to the ambitions of the Scarlets and Welsh regional rugby.

It is because of that financial struggle that Kahn Fotuali'i was also lured away, this time from the Ospreys.

Ranked by many as one of the two best scrum-halves in the world alongside Will Genia, Fotuali'i may well feature more at fly-half given the departure of Ryan Lamb to Leicester Tigers.

Glenn Dickson has been recruited from Otago and Stephen Myler remains after one of his best seasons in a Northampton shirt, but the option of playing both Lee Dickson and Fotuali'i at half-back will certainly appeal to Jim Mallinder and new backs coach Alex King.

Bringing in King from Clermont gives Saints one of the game's more exciting young coaching prospects, after the former Wasps fly-half spent his playing days collecting Heineken Cup and Premiership titles.

King is now in charge of getting the best out of not just Fotuali'i and North, but the existing talent in Luther Burrell, George and Ken Pisi, Jamie Elliott and also England full-back Ben Foden.

It is an embarrassment of riches that not only has drawn the envy of other Premiership sides, but has enough potential to bring Northampton that elusive silverware they crave.

They will certainly not struggle for enough quality possession. The loss of Tonga'uiha and Mujati has been compensated by bringing in Corbisiero and Australia prop Salesi Ma'afu to partner Dylan Hartley at scrum-time.

The unofficial hero of the Lions' third Test hammering of Australia, Corbisiero has cemented his reputation as a world-class prop after a season ruined by injury.

In Sydney he silenced those who thought his knee was gone, namely his former coach, London Irish boss Brian Smith – beginning the rout with the first try in the second minute before illustrating his dominance at the scrum.

Northampton have recruited a gem in the England loosehead prop who can do everything, signing him with his prime still to come aged 24.

It is a signing of intent, one of three along with North and Fotuali'i, that send a clear message stating that Northampton are not a fading force. If anything they might be stronger.

by Ben Coles