Saracens star surprised by Northampton’s slow start - but he expects a fightback

George Kruis says Saracens are braced for a backlash from Northampton on Saturday after the Saints’ slow start to the season.

Northampton won the Premiership title in 2014, beating Sarries in the final, and they finished top of the table last season before losing the play-off semi-final to their north London rivals, who went on to lift the trophy.

But Jim Mallinder’s side have been slow out of the blocks so far this campaign, with Sunday’s 20-13 defeat away against Sale Sharks being their second loss from their opening three games.

That leaves them seventh in the early-season standings, six points behind Saracens, who sit in top spot after winning all three of their matches.

Kruis admits he is surprised by Northampton’s results, but he fully expects them to be challenging for the Premiership crown again in May and is prepared for another heavyweight clash at Franklin’s Gardens this weekend.

“No-one really saw that coming from them,” said the forward. “They were top of the pile at the end of the regular season, they’re a team that’s got everything. Their forwards are very good, their back line are pretty electric and they’ve got some experienced, smart players from England as well.

“They’re a very good team, I’m sure Jim Mallinder will be looking for some sort of fightback after what happened last week.

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“It probably comes with having a lot of players away in World Cup squads. They’ve got a pretty consistent squad, no-one’s really left, so it will be interesting. They’re a good team and every team has a couple of blips in the season and I’m sure this is just theirs.

“They’re a top-class side, they’re definitely in the top four in England and we know what they’re going to bring on Saturday and they’ll bring nothing but their best.

“This weekend’s massive. They’re massive rivals of ours and these games are always tasty between us.

“We beat them in the semis last season but before that they had a good run against us and we went in as underdogs.

“These are exciting games and it leads into the European matches [against Toulouse and Ulster] so it’s going to be a very tasty game and you want to keep your momentum building.”

Kruis has returned to Allianz Park after being among the eight Saracens players who were part of England’s Rugby World Cup campaign. And, while the host nation made a disappointingly early exit, the 25-year-old feels he has benefited from the experience.

“To spend such a long time with that quality of players, it definitely brings your game up,” he said. “You learn a few things about other players and you learn where and how you can better yourself.

“There were eight of us in there – it can only help us as a team, and we’re just looking forward to the weekend.”

Saracens go into their clash with Northampton on the back of a third successive victory – although they were not at their best in Saturday’s 24-14 home win over London Irish.

The visiting Exiles led 7-3 at the break after Asaeli Tikoirotuma’s try, but he was sinbinned for a high tackle in the second half and Jackson Wray and Alex Goode both touched down to put the hosts in control.

Leo Halavatau crossed the whitewash for London Irish with five minutes remaining to narrow the gap to seven points, but Owen Farrell kicked a penalty immediately after the restart to ensure Saracens triumphed again and stayed top of the table.