When news broke that Jim Mallinder had been sacked as the director of rugby for the Northampton Saints it was the end of an era. Not just the end of an era for Northampton, but also the end of an era within the Aviva Premiership.
Mallinder had been in the role at Northampton for over 10 years. He was appointed to the position back in June 2007 – a lifetime ago in rugby terms – making him the longest-serving rugby director in the entire league.
His reign was a successful one (obviously or it wouldn’t have lasted ten years) with 2014’s Aviva Premiership crown being the eventual highlight. Recent years though had not been as successful, with fifth and seventh place finished in the last two seasons.
After losing nine of their last ten games in all competitions it was time for a parting of ways. The final straw was the 43-32 loss to an Ospreys side that are bottom of their pool in the Pro14 this season. It was a disheartening loss, one that all but finished the Saints hopes in Europe this year.
The problem seems to be one of familiarity. As a coach, you can only say the same thing so many times to the same players before it falls on deaf ears. This seems to have been one of the major issues at Northampton as Mallinder could not get his message across to a playing staff who have tuned him out.
In these situations, there are two options. A team can either cycle through players quickly, keeping the ideas of the coach fresh, or they can simply choose to move on and bring in a different voice.
Often even if that voice is saying the same things, the message gets through. That is what those in charge will hope for at Northampton as the Saints have the players to be doing far better in all competitions than they are at this point.
The other big failure this year has been the play at the pivot position. Against the Ospreys, Northampton used no less than four players at the No. 10 position. Piers Francis was brought in to be the primary fly-half, but the constant turnover at the position with Stephen Myler and Harry Mallinder also spending time there has created a problem.
Somewhat ironically that problem won’t exist at Franklin’s Gardens next year. Mallinder senior has been kicked out in the same season that Northampton signed Welsh pivot Dan Biggar to play for the club in 2018. With this big change on the horizon, it wouldn’t be a shock to see a wholesale change of backroom, coaching and playing staffs over the next six months or so.
Former England head man Stuart Lancaster is one name that has been thrust to the fore in terms of a potential hire. This is a fit that seems like it would make sense, potentially pushing Northampton back to the end of the game where they should always be.
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