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Northampton preview 2012/13

Northampton will be spurred on after finishing the 2011/12 season empty-handed.

Saints target silverware

While most clubs will have been happy with a top-four finish and a Heineken Cup spot, there was almost an air of disappointment at Franklin's Gardens as they finished trophy-less. Having come close to winning the Heineken Cup in 2011, big things were expected last season - however Saints were dogged by inconsistency and struggled with international call-ups. The mood of the Northampton fans will not have been helped by the protracted departure of Chris Ashton, while Roger Wilson, James Downey, Jon Clarke and Greig Tonks all announced they would be leaving, too. On top of that, a deal to sign Australia full-back Cameron Shepherd fell through due to concerns over his fitness. Boss Jim Mallinder, though, has recruited wisely to fill the gaps, with Samoa Sevens international Ken Pisi - brother of Saints back George - looking an exciting acquisition, while Gerrit-Jan van Velze could have the same impact on the pack as compatriot Juandre Kruger had during his two-year stint. Crucially, Mallinder has moved the address the issues around the centre positions and the signings of Dom Waldouck and Luther Burrell should give them more creativity. James Wilson and Sam Dickinson will give the Saints some strength-in-depth, while the likes of emerging academy graduates Ben Nutley, Jamie Elliot and Mike Heywood will be looking to build on promising seasons. And with Dylan Hartley, Courtney Lawes, Tom Wood, Ben Foden and Phil Dowson among those set to be tied up on international duty, it will be up these players to step up to the mark or the Saints could well struggle at time.

Northampton stats

Director of rugby: Jim Mallinder
Captain: Dylan Hartley
Sky Bet odds: 6/1
Last season: 4th (beaten semi-finalists)
In: Gerrit-Jan van Velze (Bulls), Dom Waldouck (Wasps), Ken Pisi (North Harbour), James Wilson (Bourgoin), Luther Burrell (Sale Sharks), Sam Dickinson (Rotherham), Rhys Oakley (Bourgoin)
Out: Chris Ashton (Saracens), Roger Wilson (Ulster), James Downey (Munster), Jon Clarke (Worcester), Greig Tonks (Edinburgh), Andy Long (retired), Ben Prescott (Cornish Pirates), Brett Sharman (released)
Key man - Phil Dowson: The England No.8 has been a talisman at the Saints since arriving from Newcastle, with his form finally earning him long-deserved international honours.
Prediction: 5th

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