Northampton Saints victory over Leeds Carnegie at the weekend was a truly defining moment for the club in what has became a far less straightforward campaign than seemed likely three months ago. The hard fought away victory was absolutely essential for a struggling Saints side who had lost six premiership games on the bounce. After a second half hammering at the hands of Exeter Chiefs the week before, Jim Mallinder held his nerve and resisted the temptation to pull his side and therefore the pattern of play apart. Stephen Myler was retained at fly half with his main selectorial tinkering being at full back where Shane Geraghty was selected with Bruce Rheihana moving to the wing.
Despite losing Ben Foden, Chris Ashton, Dylan Hartley, TomWood and Joe Ansbro to international duty over the last month and Lawes to injury, it was generally expected that the strength of the squad would see the Saints through this period without too many difficulties. What Mallinder did not count on was the loss of his hugely influential scrum half, Lee Dickson. I would suggest that the absence of Dickson over recent weeks has actually had more influence on the performance of the team than the loss of the internationals. The Saints have really struggled to assert themselves and they have just not been anywhere near the potent attacking force we saw earlier in the season. Mallinder was clearly delighted to have Dickson back for the Leeds game for the first time since the New Year Day's game against Harlequins, commenting:
"When Lee Dickson plays he gives real energy and tempo to the side and I think he did that today," he added. "I think that some of our attacking play looked a lot sharper and we got on the front foot and created quite a lot of opportunities."
It was also interesting to see Myler playing with far more confidence in giving one of his more accomplished all-round performances. The coaching staff will be hoping that their internationals come through unscathed at the weekend and that they can reignite their campaign with a full squad being available. They have the benefit of back to back home games in the Aviva Premiership to start with against London Wasps and Sale Sharks followed by the Heineken Cup quarter final against Ulster at stadium:mk.