Thursday 5 December 2019 5:10 pm

Northampton Saints' clash with Leinster will be a real test of their credentials this campaign

Northampton’s double-header against Leinster in the Champions Cup, starting on Saturday, will provide a great test of where they really stand this season. 

The Saints have had a flying start to the campaign and smashed Leicester 36-13 last weekend in the East Midlands derby to go top of the Premiership. 

It has always been a stalwart of a club with a great fan base and structure, but they started to lose their way a bit towards the end of Jim Mallinder’s reign. 

Read more: Bristol Bears have the potential to become Premiership big-hitters under Pat Lam and Steve Lansdown

Chris Boyd’s appointment in 2018 coupled with an emerging crop of quality players has really turned things around and they are now playing some exciting, attacking rugby. 

No disrespect to Lee Dickson and Stephen Myler, but a noticeable difference is the combination at No9 and No10. 

In South Africa’s Cobus Reinach and Wales’s Dan Biggar, they have a world-class pairing who epitomise the firepower that Boyd has at it his disposal all over the field.

Fresh ideas

Since becoming director of rugby in 2018, the Kiwi has brought fresh ideas to the team and they are now playing with attacking flair and a real accuracy to their game. 

I’m a massive fan of young centre Rory Hutchinson, he is a really smart player, and Tom Collins is just scoring tries for fun out on the wing. 

Then you look at the forwards and they have Lewis Ludlam in the back row, who made a big impression with England at the World Cup, alongside the likes of Tom Wood and Teimana Harrison, as well as Courtney Lawes, who all have bags of experience and quality.

Northampton Saints v Lyon OU - Heineken Champions Cup Round 1
Young Scottish centre Rory Hutchinson has impressed for the Saints this term

Exeter Chiefs will be licking their lips at the prospect of a play-off final without Saracens, but Northampton were probably the most improved side of last season, reaching the play-off semi-finals, and will be there or thereabouts once again come the end of the campaign.

Saturday’s game with Leinster at Franklin’s Gardens is the first serious test of the season, though, and the Pro14 champions are no mugs. 

European giants

It’s a great chance to put in a strong performance against a European superpower with real pedigree in this competition. 

The Saints have already claimed Champions Cup wins against Lyon and Benetton and will want another in the first of these two matches with Leinster. 

These games are likely to prove decisive as to who tops Pool 1 and Boyd’s men need to win at home and claim at least a bonus point away.

If there is a positive that Northampton can take coming into this match it is that Leinster are at risk of suffering a similar fate to Ireland, with players coming to the end of a cycle. 

Read more: How Bristol rose to the top of the Premiership

Johnny Sexton, who has been so important for them, is now 34, and they are in the midst of reinventing themselves.

However, they are expertly coached by Stuart Lancaster and Leo Cullen and any game against them is going to be tough. 

The Northampton of old would have lost these close cup games and this presents a really good test to see where they stack up against one of the giants of the game. If they can beat them it will put a real feather in their cap.

Former England Sevens captain Ollie Phillips is a director within the real estate & construction team at PwC and founder of Optimist Performance. Follow Ollie on Twitter and on LinkedIn