Aviva Premiership – 9 February 2013
Northampton 11 – Gloucester 27
I was stuck on a sunny Portugese golf course during the Saints game (shame I hear you cry!), so I didn’t see it until I returned. I was getting regular texts from a mate which kept me abreast of the scoreline, and I was both delighted and bemused by them – to go to Franklin’s Gardens and win well isn’t something that happens every season.
Had we suddenly found our form again, or were Saints poor? Having watched the game a couple of times now, I think it was a bit of both. Things aren’t exactly hunky dory at Northampton, of that there is no doubt. Saints have, in recent years, been a top four fixture, and at times have threatened to do something a bit special, but unlike their nearest East Midlands rivals, Leicester, when it comes to the crunch they’ve fallen just short. There’s widespread change afoot at the ‘Gardens, and I wouldn’t be in the least bit surprised if that spread to the coaching team.
There’s no doubt that Jim Mallinder and Dorian West are a good combo, but everything has a shelf life, and it could just be that they’ve stayed at Saints just a tad too long. Look at Glaws: Dean Ryan is a class act too – perhaps we only realised just how good when we heard him on Sky – and he did good things with us, but his reign ran its course.
That’s a long-winded way of saying that we perhaps shouldn’t go overboard about this away win: on paper it looked really good, and there were certainly some really encouraging aspects to it, but Saints were pretty bad, and it wouldn’t surprise me if they ended the season in mid-table mediocrity. The worst aspect of the day was the injury to Jimmy Cowan. It’s fashionable on here to have a go at him – it seems to be the Shedweb way that any star player attracts a disproportionate amount of criticism – but I reckon his loss might just be what stops Glaws achieving great things this season. It’s easy to focus on his pass, and whether Dan Robson’s is better or worse, or point it out when there’s a dodgy box-kick, but Cowan’s influence this season has been immense.
People often lauded Rory Lawson on the basis of his rock-solid defence, but I reckon Cowan’s is even better, and I’ve not seen a Glaws 9 get more out of the pack than JC does. Come the serious games – the genuinely must-win ones, he’ll be missed. There were any number of individual highlights from Glaws players in this game. Jonny May hasn’t lost his pace after his injury, it just took him a few weeks to get back to full speed. Rob Cook kicked well and it’s fantastic to have a high-class alternative to Freddie in that department – you can’t do anything these days unless you have a good kicking percentage. Ryan Mills and Dan Robson did OK at half-back – they’re young lads and made (and will continue to make) mistakes, but they show huge potential for the future.
I’m not yet 100% convinced by Robson, and I hope that Dave Lewis gets plenty of opportunities in the coming weeks – Exeter don’t sign mugs, and they’ve spotted something. Remember they turned Haydn Thomas into a very decent 9, and clearly improved him beyond what our coaches could achieve At centre, Tinds was, as usual, the glue that held the back line together – his clear out of Tom May was awesome – and Molenaar bashed in his usual way, and to some effect. Our back row was just wonderful! K and Q were stars, and with Ben Morgan and Matt Kvesic we’ll be well served in that department next season .
We didn’t miss Big Jim, and that’s great. I hope the rumours about James Hudson are correct – he’s a classy individual with just the personality to fit in at Kingsholm. To those who think he’s not a big enough name – remember Q and K and what they’ve gone on to achieve with us. I know a fair bit about Hudson and I really hope he joins us. The front row did OK, but they would with the world’s best tight-head on the field! Nick Wood had his opposite number on toast, but we should be prepared for a bigger test on Sunday – Wasps ain’t the pushover of old in that department.
As for Sunday’s game, for me it’s a huge test. Dai Young is a world-class coach, and all that stopped him showing it last season was the most horrendous injury list I’ve ever seen at any Premiership club. I’ve seen a fair bit of his Wasps outfit this season, and they’re very good, and still improving. We’ll need to be at our best in every department to get anything out of this match – a win would send a signal that we are genuinely title contenders. Can we do it?
I don’t know, but it’s a while since I’ve been so excited about a Glaws match – it isn’t a ‘must-win’, but it’s huge.