After catching up on some Premiership action from last week, here are some random observations from Northampton’s big opening win over Gloucester. The west country side was expected to struggle, though maybe not quite that much. David Humphreys won’t be pulling out Laurie Fisher’s hair just yet.
The decision not to tinker with the side in the transfer market looks to have paid off, as Saints were outstanding in all areas, particularly on defense. It wasn’t just the line speed or the organisation, it was the determination to put bodies backwards and on the floor that was most impressive. Gloucester just couldn’t get anything going up front against the green wall.
George North was in tremendous form for Northampton, scoring a hat trick and just looking a class above everyone else on the field. His spin-and-step move to score the second demonstrated incredible agility for a man of his size. Together with Julian Savea, the big men seem to have a monopoly on top of the wing charts these days.
The scrum was a real battle with Dylan Hartley and Alex Corbisiero getting the edge on Richard Hibbard and John Afoa, though obviously the Gloucester unit will improve as the season goes on. Adding a little more grunt to the second row might help too. A combination of Elliott Stooke and Mariano Galarza might be a good idea once the Argentine returns from international duties, with Tom Palmer an option too.
It was a tough day for Billy Twelvetrees, whose combination with James Hook isn’t there yet, and Luther Burrell definitely won the battle between the two England centres. Credit to Billy though, he shook off a tremendous hit from Samu Manoa that would have broken most mortals.
Officiating seems to be getting a lot of press these days, which is worrying, and Wayne Barnes is often in the thick of it. He has a tendency to be a bit wordy, which can be off-putting, and last season was guilty of far too much use of the TMO (ironic considering his recent comments on over-reliance), but this one was handled pretty well. Manoa’s hit passed without a second look (take notes George Clancy) and if there is still bad blood between he and Hartley, it thankfully wasn’t evident during the match.
Ben Morgan has shed a few pounds in the off-season. He looks quite fit but has he sacrificed some power? He didn’t seem to gain many years, but then the Gloucester offense was pretty stagnant. There wasn’t much go-forward and Saints were doubling up on Sione Kalamafoni every time he touched the ball.
If one player put his hand up for Gloucester it was Dan Robson. He was always going to start second fiddle to high profile import Greig Laidlaw, but if you were to pick between the two after the match it would be hard not to side with the energetic Robson. Certainly seems a like-for-like replacement for Danny Care should England come looking.
Gloucester need a strike runner in the backline. Charlie Sharples and Jonny May are dangerous out wide but Hendry Trinder isn’t the type to run a hard line. With Laidlaw and Hook (a dandy name for a solicitors office) handling the kicking duties, Rob Cook is probably expendable and the sooner Stevie McColl gets into the lineup the better.
By contrast the Pisi brothers were in fine form for Saints, and it was great to see Ben Foden with a smile on his face again. Super-sub James Wilson looked great, and Will Hooley got in a few decent minutes. With so much strength in depth they will be tough to beat in any configuration this season.