I have a feeling Northampton may surprise a few people this season, and here Jon Hobbs previews their prospects.
Santiago Bonorino (Leicester Tigers)
Phil Dowson (Newcastle Falcons)
Shane Geraghty (London Irish)
Brian Mujati (Stormers)
Dan Vickerman (Cambridge University)
Will Harries (Newport Gwent Dragons)
Phil Hoy (Bedford Blues, loan)
Sean Lamont (Scarlets)
Ben Lewitt (Bedford Blues)
Matt Lord (retired)
Rob Milligan (retired)
Alex Rae (Bedford Blues)
Tom Smith (retired)
Carlos Spencer (Gloucester)
Neil Starling (London Welsh)
Barry Stewart (retired)
Having completed a solid return to the top flight with an 8th place finish last season, Northampton Saints will be looking to improve this year and challenge for a play-off place.
They have made limited but astute signings and have enjoyed a relatively stress-free break so they start the season in good shape. All five of their signings look like 1st XV starters, with Shane Geraghty the pick of the bunch. Assuming he stays fit he might make the difference to take Saints from the bottom half of the table to the top half.
Making Dylan Hartley their captain was probably the most controversial announcement that Saints made over the summer but it could be the making of the player. Bruce Reihana has been a fantastic skipper in recent seasons and the club will be hoping his form is maintained for at least one more year. However in Hartley they have a player of real promise and I’m sure the hope will be that the extra responsibility will force him to remove the more controversial elements of his play to round off his development.
In the pack, Dan Vickerman, Phil Dowson and Brian Mujati will add to their starting options whilst Santiago Bonorino will provide good cover. The main improvement necessary will be for the team to transplant their home form to the road, which should be easier this year with a season under their belt as a settled squad.
However, looking at all the squad lists, there are still plenty of teams I would place above Northampton – I predict they will have a similar season to the last one but may just have the bigger boys looking over their shoulders and taking notice.