Adam Hathaway, rugby correspondent of the People, wonders if a fresh pair of eyes are needed at Northampton and raises a glass of red to all long-suffering, and long-travelling, Bath fans.
Imagine you are in a maths exam. Please give us the next number in this sequence and then please show us your workings……..you will get credit for showing your reasoning even if you get the answer wrong. And you would need a brain the size of a house to get near this one.
The good news is you don’t need a brain the size of a house to work out how to get the numbers going on an upward curve again.
The sequence is 15,203, 13,533, 12,809, 13,320, 15,109, 9,347 and 11,007.
And the answer is, drum roll please, 8,105.
That is a list of Northampton’s attendances this season in all their home fixtures with the 8,105 figure coming in Saturday’s dismal 43-32 Champions Cup defeat by the Ospreys at Franklin’s Gardens. If you did turn up, and you are a Saints fan, then give yourself a medal.
You deserve one.
There are a lot of reasons why crowd figures might be down. Christmas shopping, a dire Saturday evening kick-off time, whatever reality show is on the goggle at that time of day or we could even blame Brexit. It seems to cop the flak for most things that are going wrong at the moment.
Or it could be that Northampton are just plain garbage and the locals have cottoned on to the fact.
A year ago to the day exactly RugbySpy wrote that the Saints were in freefall. Then they were ninth in the Premiership and had been gubbed 37-10 by Leinster in Europe.
Jim Mallinder was the director of rugby.
Currently they are 10th in the Premiership and have lost their last eight games in the league and in Europe. They have lost nine out of 10 in all competitions if you include the Anglo-Welsh Cup.
Jim Mallinder is director of rugby.
When you look through the record books in a few years’ time an 11-point defeat to the Ospreys might not seem to be the biggest shoeing of all time.
But after 56 minutes Northampton were 43-8 down, against a team who had been reduced to 14 men for 10 minutes by the first half binning of wing Jeff Hassler.
Then the Ospreys got a second yellow, for replacement Rob McCusker, and a red card, late on, for wing Hanno Dirksen and Saints scored some cheap points whilst the Welsh had their foot off the gas. Northampton were never going to win and that is that for them in Europe for another year.
Mallinder can hardly be accused of chucking the game. He put a decent side out on paper – just a shame it was rubbish on grass.
Dylan Hartley, Courtney Lawes, Ben Foden, Luther Burrell and the rest are no-one’s idea of mugs so something must be going wrong at the Gardens.
They were missing George North, Kieran Brookes, Alex Waller, Tom Collins, Charlie Clare, Tom Stephenson and Alex Waller with injury but what club has not got a casualty list as long as your arm at the moment?
Just over a year ago, in October 2016, Northampton got rid of Alex King who was regarded as one of the most innovative, young, and importantly English, attack coaches about.
He got his marching orders because Saints were not exactly running in tries for fun. In fact they had scored seven in six Premiership games that season before he went in through the outdoor as Robert Plant might have said.
This season Northampton have not got a bonus point, for scoring four tries, since 30 September. That is if you take out the farce in the final quarter on Saturday and the Anglo-Welsh Cup – and we are taking them out.
And a crowd of just over 8,000 for a European game, in a rugby town, is pathetic – Christmas shopping or no Christmas shopping and Strictly Come Dancing or no Strictly Come Dancing.
It is not all rotten at Northampton. They have recently starting issuing team lists that detail which players are unavailable and why. In the past that information was virtually classified so it is not all doom and gloom but it is looking pretty gloomy for Mallinder and his coaching staff. But like Baldrick – we have a cunning plan.
No-one wants to see a bloke lose his job but Mallinder must be verging on P45 territory. Maybe he needs someone to use as a sounding board, a bloke who has been around the block, won World Cups and been at Northampton before.
And a bloke who is taking a break from a game he can’t get enough of.
Someone at Franklin’s Gardens must have Wayne Smith’s number. If not I reckon Matt Dawson or Paul Grayson, two players who he coached in his first incarnation as Northampton boss, would have it. They loved the bloke and they know their onions.
Smith was put in the frame for the South African job by one website recently and he has been out of rugby since the end of the Rugby Championship when he finished with the All Blacks.
There is not a rugby establishment on earth that would not want Smith in the building. Twickenham tried to get him more than once because he is firmly in the uber-coach bracket.
The former All Black fly-half knows the game inside out and was one of the driving forces behind their rise to becoming the greatest team in the world. Twice.
Smith coached at Northampton from 2001 to 2004. In 2001 they were on the slide but Smith got them to the old Powergen Cup final and got them back into the top tier of Europe.
In 2007 they got relegated. And later that year Mallinder arrived and got them back into the Premiership at the first time of asking.
And in 2014, Mallinder took them to the Premiership title after a heart-stopping win against Saracens in the final. So he must know a bit about the game.
Mallinder is only 51, which is no age for a club boss, so it is probably too early to be writing his coaching obituary. But there is no shame in casting around for a fresh pair of eyes.
And there are few better pairs of eyes in the game than Smith. He is known as the Professor but you don’t need a degree in rugby to know that he is the real deal.
That South African job looks like it could become vacant in the not-too-distant future, with Allister Coetzee up against the wall, so Northampton had better get their skates on because Smith surely won’t have his feet up forever.
Otherwise the next number in that sequence might be 2,104. Or even worse.
In Toulon at the weekend there were hundreds of Bath fans milling about the port on Friday and Saturday enjoying the restaurants and bars. It is a top place and a perfect spot for a rugby weekend.
They were there for their club’s Champions Cup game against Toulon which ended in a 24-20 defeat at the Stade Felix Mayol – one of RugbySpy’s favourite venues. Bath got done by the referee who seemed to think blocking was legal in rugby and probably should have nicked the game, but hey,ho.
We had a good time.
And we hope the Bath fans did too because most of them are still there.
Our colleague Dan Evans, from the Bath Chronicle, set off on Friday and joined RugbySpy, the Sunday Times and the Rugby Paper, for dinner just as the crème brûlée was being served after a catalogue of travel disasters.
Dan is currently on a world tour collecting more air miles than Michael Palin. He will also surely soon become the first man to be given a platinum loyalty card by the French railway network, the SNCF.
He visited Amsterdam, Lyon, Aix-en-Provence and Marseille before arriving in Toulon. So did many Bath fans.
When we last contacted our colleague, on Monday morning, he was in Marseille waiting to get a flight to Munich from where he, along with piles of Bath fans, was hoping to get back to Bristol.
So for lots of people that is four countries, including Britain, to watch, or like Dan, cover, a game of rugby.
Like Captain Oates, they may be some time.
If the Mayor of Bath is not in town to greet these returning heroes, and give them sort of civic honour, when they do make it back in town then the game has really gone.
And some of us thought we had it rough by driving to Nice on Saturday to get the early flight on Sunday to Heathrow so we could make it Saracens in time for the Clermont match. That worked out well.
At least we get paid for our troubles. The Bath fans shelled out their hard-earned dosh and will probably be docked a few quid for missing shifts on Monday and Tuesday.
So we salute you all for putting up with the worst the winter weather, incompetent airlines, dodgy trains and a poor referee can throw at you and still come up smiling.
Let’s just hope you all make it back in time for the return match at the Rec on Saturday.