Channel 5 may not have had ninth versus tenth in the Aviva Premiership table in mind when they agreed to air Saturday’s “Big Game” but that is precisely where Harlequins and Northampton Saints find themselves midway through the season.
While the game – set to be watched by more than 70,000 fans inside Twickenham and several million more on terrestrial television courtesy of a rights sharing package which will see Channel 5 air five games this season alongside BT Sport – is far from the top-of-the-table blockbuster the broadcasters had in mind at the start of the year, it remains a game of huge significance to both clubs. Perhaps more significance than either would like.
Defeat for either side will plunge them further down the table and further away from a top six spot many of their fans consider a bare minimum requirement come the end the of the season.
Northampton, who parted company with director of rugby Jim Mallinder almost three weeks ago after eight successive defeats in major competitions, have shown almost no sign of improvement under interim coach Alan Dickens, losing on consecutive weeks to Ospreys and Exeter Chiefs. Another loss on Saturday would signal one of the most humiliating run of results in the proud east midland club’s history, with Australian coach Alan Gaffney not due to take control of the side until New Year’s Day after being unveiled as Mallinder’s successor until the end of the season on Friday.
Quins director of rugby John Kingston, less than two years into his tenure after taking over from Conor O’Shea, has not faced the same degree of scrutiny as Mallinder, who paid the price for three seasons of stagnation at Franklins Gardens.
But patience is inevitably wearing thin at a club with lofty ambitions and one of the punchiest playing budgets in England. Quins need a result almost as badly as Saints.
A horrendous injury list has bought Kingston some time but he’ll be the first to admit ninth place in…