Mallinder: Expectations high
Northampton director of rugby Jim Mallinder is prepared for a "rollercoaster" season in the Aviva Premiership ahead of their opening clash with Exeter on Saturday.
The Saints won their first five games last season and went on to reach their first Grand Final in May, when they suffered a 37-17 defeat to Leicester at Twickenham.
A mid-season slump saw them knocked out of the LV= Cup and Heineken Cup while slipping to sixth in the Premiership, although they finished the season strongly to reach the play-offs and then upset Saracens in the semi-finals.
"Seasons are always rollercoasters and there are always highs and lows," said Mallinder. "We had a cracking start to the season and we went through a bit of a lull.
"Then we came through it at the end and made it through to our first Grand Final so it was a tremendous experience and it's left us wanting more and motivated us to see if we can go one step further.
"There will be times this season when things don't go exactly as you want. That's when you have to stick together and keep working hard and keep doing the things you know work and hopefully you'll come through.
"That happened last season and hopefully it will happen this season. I think the expectation at Northampton is the same as the top few teams that are always there.
"The crowd come and they attend in really good numbers and they want to see a winning team. So the expectation is always there. For us the challenge is to get the potential of the new signings turned into excellent new signings."
Mallinder made the highest-profile move of the summer when he signed Wales and Lions wing George North, but he is counting on his entire squad to sustain another title challenge this season.
"It's trying to get as strong a squad as you possibly can," added Mallinder. "Nowadays 15 players or 23 players don't win championships and trophies.
"So you need a big squad and you need your top players but we'll know we'll be without those players for quite long periods so we need to know that when those players are away the squad is strong enough to step in and win some games and bring points back."