Mallinder firing had been on cards for ages and was not a knee-jerk reaction


You hear a lot of claptrap in sport at times and one of the biggest examples in rugby recently has been likening the game to football in the wake of Jim Mallinder’s sacking by Northampton.

As everybody knows, football’s handle on reality went missing many years ago – coincidentally with the arrival of Sky Sports in 1991 – and if managers survive a year these days they’re doing pretty well. In fact, it is not uncommon for clubs to go through three bosses in one season.

Mallinder spent ten years at Northampton and the decision to dispense with him could hardly be described as knee-jerk.

If anything, the axe should have fallen sooner after Saints failed to build on their Premiership final victory in 2014 – the culmination of seven successful years.

Mallinder’s stubborn refusal to make significant changes to his squad in the wake of that dramatic extra-time win over Saracens at Twickenham was just one of many fault-lines to appear at Franklin’s Gardens, with their once highly-vaunted forward pack also gradually losing its punch.

There were issues that clearly needed to be addressed, whether that involved playing staff or coaches, and after a run of form this season that saw Saints lose nine of their last 10 matches prior to his departure, what else were directors expected to do other than bring down the axe?

Mallinder was given plenty of time, of that there is no doubt, so in this case comparisons with football’s hire and fire mentality are miles wide of the mark.

Perhaps more pertinent right now are the lessons that can be learnt from it by people like Exeter supremo Rob Baxter.

With Mallinder gone, Rob has assumed the mantle of being the Premiership’s longest serving boss – and he also enjoyed the culmination of a successful period last season by lifting the title.

Now, I’m not for a minute suggesting Rob will sit on his hands and allow things to drift at Sandy Park, that is clearly not the case, but what happened at Northampton should act as a warning.

Another salutary reminder of how quickly things can change is Saracens, who travel to Leicester today on the back of seven straight defeats in all competitions, equalling their worst run in the professional rugby era which was set in 2003 – the year England won the World Cup.

It’s hard to believe that such a fate should befall the European champions, but it just goes to show how competitive top-flight rugby is right now and nobody is immune from strife, with Leicester also going into today’s match on the back of four consecutive defeats. Astonishing!

I doubt very much whether Saracens boss Mark McCall or his counterpart at Tigers, Matt O’Connor, are under any immediate threat of losing their jobs, but as Mallinder will testify, unless you address the fundamental root causes early, boards eventually become twitchy and it’s curtains.

Timing of England’s camp just madness England boss Eddie Jones names his latest training squad this Friday and it will be interesting to see who he calls up for a two-day training camp in Brighton on January 1 and 2, which I’m sure the Premiership clubs are all ecstatic about at this hectic time of year.

I appreciate the fact that the RFU wave wads of cash about for player release that the Premiership clubs grasp with glee, but did nobody stop for a minute and think, ‘what the hell are we doing?’.

Exeter entertain Leicester at 3.00pm next Sunday, after which instead of going into recovery mode from what is bound to be a gruelling game, Jones’s chosen men – Tigers and Chiefs – must squeeze themselves into cars and crawl their way along England’s south-coast.

According to the AA’s route planner, it’s a 179-mile journey that takes 3hrs 58mins, and that’s without taking into account holiday traffic on New Year’s Eve.

At a time when so many people continue to preach about player welfare, it seems utter, utter madness.

As for how clubs are expected to prepare for another crucial round of Premiership games the following week, not to mention two legs of Europe after that, we’d better not go there.

If ever there was a case for scrapping the season structure and starting again, this is it.

But I’m willing to bet the poor bloody infantry will be facing exactly the same issues next year.

This article first appeared in the Independent. To get the latest articles when they appear, buy the print edition every Sunday or subscribe to our online edition HERE.