This article is a follow up from my piece on Northampton Saints, written after the sacking of Jim Mallinder. For those who haven’t yet read it, the link is here.
Who is new boss Alan Gaffney?
Alan Gaffney has been appointed to take over for the rest of this season. His official title is technical coaching consultant. Gaffney’s appointment appears designed to buy time for the Northampton board to find the right replacement for Mallinder. They don’t seem interested, yet, in giving Gaffney the role permanently.
📸 Alan Gaffney took the reins for the first time at the Gardens on Monday morning pic.twitter.com/vQVKpRrtam
— Northampton Saints (@SaintsRugby) January 2, 2018
Gaffney is a well travelled Australian who has worked with some of the biggest organisations in the sport. He started at Randwick in 1984, coaching players like David Campese, the Ella brothers, Eddie Jones and Micheal Cheika. Gaffney will be familiar to Irish readers as a former head coach of Munster (2002-2005) and a backs coach with Leinster and the Irish national team. He has also been involved with the Waratahs and was Director of Rugby at Saracens from 2006 to 2008.
Gaffney has set his sights on the Premiership playoffs, which seems to be an addition of unnecessary pressure on himself. He has also said he wants to take the job on a more permanent basis and will see the next few months as his chance to audition for the role.
What about the other coaches?
Paul Gustard, the England defence coach, has been helping the Saints as a part time defence consultant. The involvement of England coaches might continue, because Gaffney and Eddie Jones have known each other a long time.
Alan Dickens was the interim head coach after Mallinder left. He will now go back to being attack coach. Whether a new man will want to replace him time will tell. He will be hoping the Saints attack improves over the rest of the season. Alan Gaffney is also an attack coach, which may make things interesting. Somewhat confusingly, Gaffney has said Dickens was instrumental in his appointment and that Gaffney himself is there more as a support than to take over.
While it is yet to be officially confirmed, forwards coach Dorian West may be joining his old friend Dean Richards at Newcastle next season. If he goes, this could potentially leave the Saints needing a whole new set of coaches.
Any upturn in form?
Unfortunately for Saints, they haven’t improved in any way since Jim Mallinder left. The poor performances continue, but the stage gets bigger. Harlequins crushed and humiliated them in front of 77,000 fans at Twickenham; the first live Premiership match ever shown on terrestrial TV. It was part of an agreement for the UK’s Channel 5 to simultaneously broadcast a handful of games per season with BT Sport. This meant it was one of the most watched games in Premiership history.
— Harlequins 🃏 (@Harlequins) January 3, 2018
A players clear out in the summer?
Alongside a potential new coaching panel, Northampton have 12 first team squad players out of contract in the summer. The board are suggesting they would like to see a clearout and are planning to make money available. A new talisman in Dan Biggar is arriving. I suggested in my previous article that Saints need to make room for 4 new additions alongside the Welsh fly-half. Northampton may go much further than I thought. As a result of the uncertainty, Saints can expect to see themselves linked to all sorts of players.
What can Saints expect from the rest of this season?
With London Irish still 13 points adrift of Northampton, Franklins Gardens looks likely to see top-flight action next season. However, Saints have lost their last 7 Aviva Premiership games. Worcester have almost caught them, with the Warriors playing well and now only 3 points off Saints, who sit in 10th. Northampton are only a couple of London Irish wins away from serious trouble. The hard times look set to continue for a while yet.
In terms of playing style, Northampton can be hopeful of positive changes. Alan Gaffney coached some incredible attacks. In particular, Leinster and the Waratahs under his charge played fast, expansive rugby with an emphasis on handling. much could depend on London Irish. If they can find a way to drag Northampton into the relegation mix, then the Saints will most likely play safety-first rugby. If Gaffney wins a couple of games early on, and Irish look certain to go down, we may see his team start the process of changing their game in a positive way.
Author: Daniel Pugsley
I am a 31 year old from Yorkshire, England. I have played social rugby for 25 years in England, Japan, Italy, Poland and the UAE. I teach English as a foreign language, which explains why I’ve lived in so many places. I recently moved back to England and have had to take a break from playing, but I hope to pull on the boots again soon.