How do you solve a problem like Northampton?

Discussion in 'The Clubhouse Bar' started by Bullitt, Jan 14, 2007.

  1. Bullitt

    Bullitt Guest

    All is not well aboard the good ship Northampton. In the past 10 years the team has come back from the murky depths of the 1st division and went on to become a dominant force in the Northern hemisphere, culminating in a Heineken Cup victory 6 years ago. Not bad work, you'd agree.

    Since then things have been patchy to say the least; Things were all going fine when John Steel moved upstairs to make way for now All Blacks coach Wayne Smith, who made good use of the Northampton old boys playing them with a (then unheard of in the home nations) flowing running game closer to the everyday bread and butter seen in the Super 12. The backs could chuck a ball around with ease while the forwards could push anyone around the park. Then Graham Hendry decided he needed an assistant and only had one name in mind... Wayne Smith. Only a fool turns down the offer of coaching the All Blacks, so off Wayne goes.

    No problem, Saints can hire another well known and previously successful coach in the form of Alan Solomons. "Look at the great things he's achieved in South Africa and Ireland" we all said, "the progression continues!" Signings such as Corne Krige, Robbie Kempson and Wylie Human only stood to make a further point of the clubs intentions and how things could only better and better. Especially with maximum points after the first two games of the season.

    Oh how wrong we were.

    This was the end of the good days and the beginning of the clubs down fall. Rumours of in fighting between the South Africans and the rest of the squad, or the news that 14 first team players would not be required the following season (including Saints 3 remaining world cup winners) were the background noise on the terrace while the clubs worst losing streak in living memory rumbled on. Eventually, after suffering defeat at home to newly promoted Worcester at home, Solomons was sacked and Corne Krige stepped down as captain. Trying to salvage anything from the season looked like impossibility, but a victory over HEC favourites Toulouse in Budge Poutneys first game in charge at home kept the fans interested and set up a good run in the tournament. The season had few highlights otherwise; Victory in the derby was as good as things went, but it was a Quins loss to Sale that saved Northampton’s bacon after they lost at Worcester thanks to a late Drew Hickie try which should have relegated the Saints.

    The next season, things looked bleak for up until Christmas until Saints picked up form and got them back into the HEC thanks to a brilliant end of season run. A young star in the form of Jon Clarke emerged along with the signing of the mercurial Carlos Spencer pre season, the team started playing well together and things began to look good. "Maybe things are coming back for us?" We thought.

    Oh how wrong we were.

    With the fans all optimistic of a cracking season ahead of them, things looked well for the first half of the season opener against Newcastle at home. However, with the loss of Jon Clarke at around the half hour mark into the game to a broken ankle which put him out until at least well into the new year, Saints good start to the season crumbled, the Northamptonians scraping the victory after a Johnny Wilkinson missed a late, LATE penalty. In the following weeks things went from bad to worse with the loss of numerous other players to suspension and injury;

    ~ Johnny Howard - 2 weeks Suspension for stamping
    ~ Paul Tupai - Suspended for an acumination of yellow cards
    ~ Carlos Spencer - Cited and suspended for a spear tackle
    ~ Jon Clarke - Injured with a broken ankle
    ~ Bruce Reihana - Injured with cruciate ligament damage
    ~ Stephen Myler - Injured with cruciate ligament damage
    ~ Rhodri Davies - Injured with groin strain
    ~ Luke Myring - Injured
    ~ Robbie Kydd - Injured
    ~ Seamus Mallon - Injured
    ~ David Quinlan - Injured

    The list goes on.

    A fast forward to today and the club is in big trouble. The club lost at home to league minnows Worcester, rumours are rife of in fighting between the players, the die-hard supporters are losing patience while the part-time 'fans' (many of which can be seen on the clubs website) are blaming everyone under the sun without engaging their brains, the coaches constantly pass the buck instead of rightfully taking responsibility for their actions, the players are losing interest and the clubs owner is living on cloud cuckoo land and claims the they will still win the Heineken Cup!

    So now we know what the problems are, how the hell do we fix them? The whole setup needs to be addressed if the team will ever match the facilities the clubs owns;

    The Management & Coaching Staff

    Everyone who loves Northampton loves and has great respect for Paul Grayson. As a player he's been there through thick & thin. Possessing a brilliant tactical rugby brain and with 15+ years experience of top level rugby, the HEC and World Cup winner will eventually go on to be a great coach. Bit is taking the top job at a Premiership side as your first job really the best of ideas? Paul misses a few key ingredients for now to make him into a truly great coach, the most important thing being he doesn't have the charm of Peter Slone or Wayne Smith. When you hear Smudger or Slugger talk, there is a reassuring tone to their voices that can make you feel like everything will be alright, even if things are far from right, so you always will believe there is a backup plan. Grayson does not have this calming reassurance, which can be a problem not only for the pre match build-up, but also for keeping the fans on his side.

    Although the Peter Sloane is with the club, he is an underling to a deeply inexperienced coach. As a coach who's won an awful lot during his tenure in New Zealand, this is wrong. These two should have their roles reversed, both as it will allow Grayson to concentrate on what he knows best (kicking and back movements) while Sloane runs the whole team. This will both ease Grayson into his role while at the same time, bringing some stability to the team.

    The Players

    "Over reliance on Stars" are the words on everyone's lips at the moment. Except mine. Any team in the premiership would kill to have players such as Carlos Spencer, Mark Robinson, Bruce Reihana, Ben Cohen, Steve Thompson, Tom Smith or Sean Lamont on their roster. Northampton’s problem isn't reliance on these big names, rather not having good enough backup for when they're unavailable. The depth in the academy is so far looking fantastic, but the first team replacements bench however is consistently cluttered with dead wood;

    ~ Luke Myring
    ~ Seamus Mallon
    ~ Chris Wyles
    ~ Rhodri Davies
    ~ Vaughn Going
    ~ Johnny Howard
    ~ Ian Vass

    All of which have regularly played this season yet they would probably struggle to break into any first team in the 1st division otherwise. When you compare this to other teams such as Gloucester who have many very good players that should be challenging for a first team place rather then competing for a bench position, it shows there is a problem. If Northampton is to ever become a regular top of the league side, setting their sights with one first choice XV and some extra name to make up the numbers simply isn't enough. This needs to be sorted out before the academy progress through the ranks as that will take more then a few years.

    The Boardroom

    The club is one of the most profitable in the country because of the excellent businessmen there are in charge. However, as a victim of their own success, they have forgotten that Northampton Saints PLC is still a rugby club and some decisions regarding the game they play should also be made. There is nothing wrong of course with keeping the bank balance healthy, that's what keeps the club going, but they need to look at investing an awful lot more into the rugby side of things and less into the "Greatest Ever" promotions and that ilk, as they will only prove a failure and alienate the people who generate the money in the first place - The fans. This brings me round nicely to;

    The Fans

    Northampton in the past was widely regarded as having some of the best fans in the country, but in the last few seasons “perennial whiners” would be a better description. Whey they’re not complaining and calling foul play by the RFU for something which is the clubs or players own fault, they’re putting all of the blame on one single person for entire teams dismal performances, (most notably recently, Carlos Spencer has been picking up the bulk of flack recently from these ‘fans’ who think they know the game, yet he’s non personally had a bad game for months!). You know the sort; They go to each game but whinge the Guinness costs £3 a pint, their car isn’t parked immediately under the grandstand, they didn’t get Ben Cohen’s autograph this week and then they’ll go onto the clubs official website complaining about all these things before claiming they personally are the best fan the club’s ever had.

    Far too many of the Franklins Gardens regulars today wouldn’t know a Gary Owen from Michael Owen, be them kids who only go because they’re banned from the football ground or (even worse) the prawn sandwiches who are the same people that ruin Twickenham on every international weekend. The atmosphere in fortress Franklins is not a patch on years gone by as a result, as more and more rugby fans are pushed away for Mr and Mrs Smith who want to sit quietly. After enjoying their complimentary corporate dinner.

    Loud and raucous fans are the 16th man for a rugby team; they will lift up and gee on their boys, helping them find that extra gear when required. More of the singers and more of the shouters need to be brought back while the business men and women should be kept to a minimum.

    So, in summary; How do you solve a problem like Northampton Saints?

    ~ Replace the coaching staff with the best men for the job. Make sure all of those below them learn from them.
    ~ Don’t assume your best XV will be fit all season and make sure you have capable backup for injured players on the books.
    ~ Remember exactly what Northampton Saints RFC is; A rugby club. Put the focus on the rugby for the showcase it is, not one of the clubs many different money making projects.
    ~ Bring the fans back. Let the prawn Sandwiches stay in the bar and put the noisy fans who care about the game come out to play instead.

    It doesn’t take much, only time will tell if anything is done though.
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  3. condor

    condor Guest

    How do you solve a problem like Northampton, Teh Mite? Could start with NOT producing an article based on speculation and inaccuracy.
  4. Bullitt

    Bullitt Guest

    Que the "Keep the Faith" brigade.

    Oh and welcome to the forum.
  5. condor

    condor Guest

    Oh trust me mate, I'm that last fan at the moment to spout "keep the faith". My comments referred to, h'mm let me pick just one point of many - you refer to Rhodri Davies as "deadwood"! Are you blind? He has more talent than most in that team. But wait, it gets better. You then go on to say that he has been "regularly played this season". Well, try telling Rhodri that. Try COYSDC forum for a balanced explanation as to why the Saints find themselves in their current predicament. There is no point speculating to the extent you have Teh Mite. You do not know what happens behind closed doors. Shocking article.
  6. Bullitt

    Bullitt Guest

    Amazing how more people are bothered about be labeling Davies in the same pocket as the other players who simply aren't good enough, but no one has even registerd that anything else there is written.

    I do wonder if half of the haters even bothered reading it.
  7. Prestwick

    Prestwick Guest

    Well the RFU are rumoured to have a pretty good plan.... something about a "Super 10"? ;D
  8. Disagree regarding Carlos Spencer.

    Was disgusted by his performance against Worcester. Was lazy, didn't get back in position, showed no confidence in anyone outside him.

    Every time we moved the ball wide we looked like we could do something, but Spencer insisted on brainlessly hoofing the ball in the air at every opportunity.

    And his missed kick from in front of the posts was shocking. I wouldn't expect a child at under 13 level to miss that kick, nevermind a highly paid professional.

    Yes, he can produce performances such as the one against Saracens last season, but at the moment he doesn't look interested. It's as though he knows there is no competition for his place and so can do whatever he likes without consequence. Roll on the recovery of Stephen Myler.

    Without his 'buddies' such as Reihana, or players who he feels are good enough outside him like Quinlan and Clarke, Spencer just doesn't seem interested.

    Everyone knows he can be a genius, but at the moment his arrogant and selfish attitude is really starting to grate with me. I have stood up for him in the past but it's becoming beyond a joke.

    Would not mind seeing him leave at the end of his contract if he does not buck up his ideas.
  9. condor

    condor Guest

    I'm not Spencers biggest fan either but he is playing to the game plan! He has been told to kick it when he finally gets possession.

    Your problem should be with Grayson et al, not Spencer. The game plan this season, vis-s-vis last season, has been to keep it in the forwards so the little ball the backs do get is not quality. It is the coaches that don't have faith in their backs. Spencer is working with what he has got and what he has been told.

    The way we were playing last season is the polar opposite to how we were playing now. When JC and Reihana went out injured, the coaches decided to play a game of defence rather than our last seasons attacking game because they lacked confidence in the new look backline.

    The ONLY game I have seen this season which resembled that Saracens match from last year was the 'dead rubber' EDF game against Leicester and that was supposedly because the coaches left the team to it for the week because they didn't care about the outcome. Thank Lordy, Myler, DB2 and Harding for taking it on themselves to work out the game plan.

    Unfortunately things are going to have to get worse for the Saints before they will be able to get better.
  10. I can't believe any top level coach would sustitute a meaningful gameplan with "whack the ball in the air and see what happens".

    And no 10 should need to be taught to realign instead of hanging around near the ruck and leaving his inside centre to cover for him.
  11. Prestwick

    Prestwick Guest

    Hey those were two of Matt "I'm a total ******" Williams's biggest mantras.

    1) Thou must pass thy ball to thou Dan Parks to hoof into yonder row Z.
    2) Thou must hang around yonder ruck for occassional ball to hoof into yonder row Z.
  12. Bullitt

    Bullitt Guest

    When he was dealing with the backs acting like tossers and dropping it every time for the 75 previous minutes (especially Sean "knock on" Lamont), I'm not supprised he went for touch... Bung it out at their 10m and hope the sweatys win it back. Sounds better then the goseberries we had in the middle trying to run with it.
  13. condor

    condor Guest

    Agree SaintsFW. I, too, believe a top-level coach would never condone a gameplan that, when on attack, revolves around "whacking the ball in the air", crossing your fingers and hoping for the best. However, Grayson isn't a top level coach now is he? Time (a lot of it) may allow this to happen, but presently Graysons record speaks for itself.

    And again, I am not Spencers biggest fan but I am pretty sure Spencers career and experience speaks for itself and he needs not to be taught much more than he already knows. It is up to management to form the right environment which gets the best out of him. In fact, that goes for all our players - creating the correct environment in which they can all play at their best.

    If you feel so strongly SFW, you should get on his Spencers website and tell him how to do his job. Sure it will go down really well. :blink:
  14. I don't doubt his talent or knowledge of the game. However, I have recently come to question his work ethic.

    Unless it's the Carlos Spencer show and he is allowed to take centre stage, the guy seems to strut around without a thought of actually utilising the talent around him.

    I have always had concerns about Mallon, but every time he got the ball against Worcester he looked dangerous. On at least one occassion he made a break with seemingly nothing on. Similarly, Robbie Kydd ran some good lines.

    Unfortunately it was very rare that Spencer actually deemed them worthy of having the ball.

    Having a gameplan is one thing, but the old addage of 'play the ball not the call' doesn't seem to apply to our mercurial 10 when it should.
  15. condor

    condor Guest

    I, too, believe that true leadership on the field is required and they need to play to the conditions rather than a set plan. But have you considered that the gameplan is coming from the coaches and that it is Grase etc that do not have confidence in the backs rather than Spencer? Especially because Spencer has publically announced his frustration with crash ball rugby from the forwards and therefore rubbish ball then getting to the backs?

    I believe our backline could do the job if they were allowed. My problem lies with the coaches, not with Spencer.

    Also, unless you attend every training session, questioning his work ethic is ridiculous.
  16. Caledfwlch

    Caledfwlch Guest

    i dunno if u agree mate(s), but i think northampton lack a certain discipline to retain the ball after a few phases. or it could be poor communication. rmb that game against borders few months back, defence was patchy, and the saints were always turning the ball over. or it could be that reihana and the rest of the backbone of the team are out atm due to injury
  17. ClaireJ

    ClaireJ Guest

    Thank you Tehmite for taking the time to consider the problems facing my beloved club. However, your memory of events differs from mine. I have been watching rugby in Northampton for decades I can now unfortunately say - I've been a regular at the Gardens since 1988 and prior to that I saw the odd match from the mid 1970's so I've seen a few matches and the odd change! ;)

    Let's start with 1999-2000 season when we should have won three trophies and came home with one by the skin of our teeth. Far from it being a glorious ride to being European Champions, in the latter stages it became a nail biting horror show. John Steele took the team built by Ian McGeechan and almost blew it. But May 29 2000 was a glorious day and I will never forget the sight of the players in a line across the pitch bringing the trophy up to the Sturtridge Pavilion. Likewise I will never forget getting the chance to thank both Tim Todber and Pat Lam.

    The following season far from things going fine, they were a disaster in the Heineken - Saints made a hash of defending the trophy they had worked so hard for. A season later and it got even worse - we lost to Tigers at home after the opening of the Tetley Stand, were hammered by Monferrand 50-17, and there were several more defeats to forget. The 13-13 draw against Quins on a November Friday night signalled the end of the Steele era. And Smithy arrived...

    The highlight of the rest of the season - the 38-17 drubbing of Newcastle Falcons. Dawson at his cheeky sniping best, running rugby at the Gardens - for 40 minutes Saints were sublime. The lowlight - the final which was dire. 38-7 ugh! Smithy stood on the bar and apologised.... A year later it happened again... but at least we had won that game at Welford Road. I was at the end of the ground where Pountney scored his gypsy try - a marvelous memory.

    Smith brought discipline to the Gardens, he tried the unexpected for example the co-captains idea, he brought a radical approach to analysing peformance but even he admitted he didn't bring the silverware to go with it (tho' I did enjoy the Middlesex Sevens!). That horrible loss at Wasps in his last game was an awful game to be at.

    The rest is too close to now to go into - I don't know why Alan Solomons failed or what's happening now but safe to say we won't know the truth for a long time!

    As for the supporters, might I suggest you have a rose tinted view of those of us who stood on the Gordon Terrace, or stood on the gravel at the old Lake end, or sat in the old wooden main stand. When I did sit in the old wooden Main Stand I used to have to suffer those that had been sat in the same seats for decades. Woe betide you if you dared to shout or sing - my husband was regularly told off for making a noise! We moved to the Tetley Stand when it opened because we couldn't stand it any more!! So it's not a new thing to request silence just a bit of our past resurfacing!

    So Tehmite - get used to the frustrations cos that's what it's going to be like for a long time - we've all been there so many times before. Take 1997 - Geech comes back from that great Lions win in South Africa. We Saints supporters are thinking we've got the best coach in the land so we're bound to do well. What happens, Saints have a torrid time... that's the rollercoaster ride that is supporting Saints!

    Oh and it's a Garryowen and it's named after an Irish rugby club!
  18. Prestwick

    Prestwick Guest

  19. A Garryowen has a purpose though. The way Saints mindlessly hoof the ball in the air does not.
  20. woosaah

    woosaah Guest

    ok back to this spencer issue, sounds like his good old days down here :) he is a show pony. as for missing a kick from right in front, he did that for the all blacks so i am not surprised.

    at least he isnt coming back here :)
  21. Bullitt

    Bullitt Guest

    How the worms turn. Look on COYSDC or the offy and their all whistling my tune now, nay I say this and all anyone can do is crit there sittisising.
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