Northampton Saints look to end disappointing season on a high

Northampton Saints
Northampton Saints

Former Australia centre Rob Horne has been forced to retire after sustaining nerve damage to his right arm during Northampton Saints’ 27-21 Premiership derby win at Leicester Tigers aged just 28.

Horne picked up what is being described as the life-changing injury a mere 13 seconds into the game at Weldon Road on 14 April – a match for which he had been made Saints captain – after making the first tackle.

Horne earned 34 caps for his country after making his Wallabies debut in 2010, featuring at the last two Rugby World Cup tournaments and against the British and Irish Lions when they toured Down Under in 2013. He joined Northampton from Australian Super Rugby franchise the Waratahs in 2017.

Saints interim head coach Alan Dickens described Horne’s retirement as “absolutely tragic news” and “devastating for every member of the squad and staff”. It was a high price to pay for Northampton’s first away win over their bitter East Midlands rivals the Tigers for 11 years.

Yet another Saints setback

Losing an international player of Horne’s calibre is the latest blow during what has been a really difficult season for Midlands outfit Saints. A poor start to the campaign saw director of rugby Jim Mallinder dismissed back in December and several high-profile departures have been announced since.

Northampton forwards coach Dorian West is leaving Franklin’s Gardens at the end of season with new staff set to be appointed by incoming boss Chris Boyd when he arrives in August. There will also be a substantial squad overhaul with many players moving on.

"George North" (CC BY 2.0) by Fearless Fred

Wales wing George North joins veteran duo Stephen Myler (fly half) and Christian Day (lock), who is calling time on his career, among the biggest names to be leaving. Where Saints’ squad is worst hit by the raft of exits is among the backs, further compounding Horne’s enforced retirement.

Despite overcoming a two-year injury absence of his own, fellow centre Tom Stephenson is another being let go by Northampton alongside utility back Ben Nutley. South African scrum half Nic Groom, meanwhile, returned home in March when he signed for Super Rugby side the Lions.

Northampton in no man’s land

Saints sit down in tenth place in the Premiership table with two games of the regular season remaining and are in no danger of relegation but falling way short of a play-off place. Having dented 22/1 Grand Final chances Leicester’s hopes of a top four finish, they can still have a say in who competes for the title.

Northampton round off their campaign with games against two more Midlands rivals in best-price 9/1 shots Wasps and Worcester Warriors. Lookout for today’s enhanced odds with bookmakers as the rugby union season reaches the play-offs.

Worcester could still finish above Saints and make them bottom Premiership team in their region because they also play fellow strugglers Harlequins. Incoming director of rugby and New Zealand native Boyd certainly has plenty to do when he arrives if he’s to drag Northampton out of the doldrums.