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Northampton Saints: BTSport.com's Gallagher Premiership 2019/20 season preview

After an encouraging 2018/19 campaign, Northampton have high hopes of making an impression in domestic and European competition this season.

Last season's Gallagher Premiership finish: 4th (W11 L11 - Pts 56)

This season's target: Top four

Last season's top try scorer: Cobus Reinach (12)

Odds to win the Premiership: 20/1*

First five fixtures: Saracens (A) Worcester (H), Harlequins (H), Bath (A), Leicester (H)

Transfers in: Matt Proctor (Hurricanes), Owen Franks (Crusaders), Reuban Bird-Tulloch (Saracens), Ryan Olowofela (England Sevens), Lewis Bean (Birmingham Moseley), Karl Garside (Ampthill), Henry Taylor (Saracens), Michael van Vuuren (Bath), James Mitchell (Connacht)

Transfers out: Luther Burrell (Warrington Wolves), Jamal Ford-Robinson (Gloucester), Matt Worley (Bedford Blues), James Craig (retired), Dominic Barrow (released), Nafi Tuitavake (released), Andrew Kellaway (Counties Manukau), Ken Pisi (released), James Haskell (retired), Charlie Davies (retired), Tom Emery (Henley Hawks)

Never want to miss an Northampton game? You can watch live matches all season long in the Gallagher Premiership, Premiership Rugby Cup and Heineken Champions Cup on BT Sport. If you’re not yet a subscriber, find out how we can get you signed up in just 15 minutes.

Read on for BTSport.com's in-depth Northampton season preview, or check out more from our exclusive series:

Bath | Bristol Bears | Gloucester | Harlequins | Leicester Tigers | London Irish | Saracens | Sale Sharks | Wasps | Worcester Warriors

Join now to watch Gallagher Premiership Rugby all season long on BT Sport

The story of last season

After a tumultuous 2017/18 campaign ended in a ninth-place Gallagher Premiership finish, Northampton’s new director of rugby Chris Boyd presided over a successful first year in charge at Franklin’s Gardens.

Saints reached the Premiership rugby semi-finals, qualified for the Champions Cup and won the Premiership Rugby Cup despite a rocky start to Boyd’s reign in the East Midlands.

Northampton found their feet in the early rounds of the Premiership Rugby Cup after an inconspicuous start to the season and Boyd’s re-invention of Saints’ style paid dividends in December when they won seven consecutive home games.

They were perilously close to the bottom of the standings before Christmas but the winning streak propelled them into the congested upper echelons of the table.

Saints’ international stars Cobus Reinach, Dan Biggar and Taqele Naiyaravoro began to live up to their sizeable reputations in 2019 and they needed four wins from their final four matches to finish fourth and qualify for the semi-finals.

A dramatic win over Harlequins preceded wins over Newcastle and Worcester, setting up a huge final day fixture against Exeter Chiefs at Sandy Park.

Northampton fell to a 40-21 defeat, but they ensured a fourth-place finish after fifth-placed Harlequins were beaten 27-25 at Wasps.

They finished level on points with Harlequins and Bath and qualified for the semi-finals courtesy of winning more games than the other fourth-place contenders.

Table-toppers Exeter were again too strong for Northampton in Saints’ first semi-final since 2015, running out 42-12 winners.

Northampton went toe-to-toe with Exeter in a pulsating first-half but the 2017 champions were relentless in the second period, scoring 28 unanswered points.

Saints also sealed the inaugural Premiership Rugby Cup in March, beating Saracens 23-9 at Franklin’s Gardens.

Playing at their home stadium, Northampton blitzed Mark McCall’s side in the first-half and safely negotiated the five-time Premiership winners’ second-half fightback.

They also reached the quarter-finals of the Challenge Cup but were well beaten by eventual winners Clermont in central France.

Hopes for this season

Northampton will be looking to carry their late-season momentum through to the new season and hit the ground running after a slow start last term.

A host of young players have been promoted from the academy this year including Ehren Painter, Fraser Dingwall, James Grayson, Alex Mitchell, Alex Moon and Josh Gillespie, while double World Cup-winning All Black Owen Franks is also joining from the Crusaders.

A number of Northampton’s international stars will miss the start of the new Premiership season so Boyd will turn to his cast of young stars to come of age on the biggest stage.

Saints have also been drawn in a Champions Cup pool with Benetton, Lyon and last season’s runners-up Leinster and will be looking to make their mark in Europe’s premier club competition, too.

Rugby World Cup absentees

Ahsee Tuala (Samoa), Cobus Reinach (South Africa), Courtney Lawes (England), Lewis Ludlam (England), Piers Francis (England), Api Ratuniyarawa (Fiji) and Dan Biggar (Wales).

Key man: Cobus Reinach

South African scrum-half Cobus Reinach was Saints’ standout performer last term and the 29-year-old will be an integral figure for Boyd’s side once again when he returns from the World Cup.

Reinach, formerly of Durban-based Super Rugby franchise The Sharks, has impressed in Japan, clocking the fastest hat-trick in tournament history in South Africa’s 66-7 mauling of Canada.

Reinach finished as the joint top-scorer in the league with 12 tries and his impressive form saw him shortlisted for Gallagher Player of the Season, but he lost out to Gloucester and England’s Danny Cipriani.

His contract expires at the end of the 2019/20 campaign and the Franklin’s Gardens faithful will be hopeful their Springbok superstar can replicate last season’s blistering form.

One to watch: James Grayson

21-year-old fly-half James Grayson, son of the club’s all-time leading points scorer Paul Grayson, broke into the first team midway through the 2017/18 season.

The England under-20 international inspired Saints to their first trophy success in five years in the Premiership Rugby Cup against Saracens and Boyd believes he can emulate his dad and play for Northampton for years to come.

“By the time it is Dan [Biggar's] turn to leave Northampton, I’m pretty certain James Grayson can play a lot of games for Saints in the future,” said Boyd.

Grayson has been an ever-present in Saints’ Premiership Rugby Cup campaign while Biggar is away on Wales duty and the mature beyond his years number 10 could have a pivotal role to play in the season ahead.

Upcoming Premiership fixtures live on BT Sport

19/10/2019 - Saracens v Northampton Saints (3pm, BT Sport 2 HD)

01/11/2019 - Northampton Saints v Harlequins (7pm, BT Sport 1 HD)

30/11/2019 - Northampton Saints v Leicester Tigers (3pm kick off)

28/12/2019 - Northampton Saints v Gloucester (2pm kick off)

05/01/2020 - Wasps v Northampton Saints (3pm kick off)

Find out all of our games chosen for live coverage across the first eight rounds, with 22 matches being shown on TV before the end of 2019.

*All odds correct with bet365 at time of writing

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