Northampton Saints coach Lee Radford admits changing the Club’s defensive approach is a long-term project – but he is confident they’re on the right track to make progress this season.
The rugby league legend arrived at cinch Stadium at Franklin’s Gardens this summer and was set the challenge of improving the men in Black, Green and Gold’s defence – which was the second leakiest in the 2022/23 Gallagher Premiership, despite finishing fourth in the final league standings.
“There’s naturally going to be some things that are more difficult to implement than others,” said the 44-year-old on the project so far. “Obviously, when you’ve done one thing one way for a long period, that becomes a habit, so changing those habits is going to be a long-winded process.
“Eventually we will get there and we will be better for that as well. I think that’s what we’re chasing at the moment is the fundamentals and the basics of our defensive roles. Getting them as solid as they can be is really important.”
Defeats to Bedford Blues, Barbarians and the Premiership Rugby Cup opener against Ealing Trailfinders were followed by a much-improved Saints display in Northampton’s 55-5 victory over Cambridge last time out.
The newly-promoted Championship outfit spent long spells in the attacking 22 but were repelled by a steely Saints defence – with the visitors’ only score coming from a loose pass that led to a 55-metre breakaway try.
“Against Ealing, they went over the first time they got down our end of the field which was really disappointing,” Radford recalled. “It’s something we’d spoken about prior to the [Cambridge] game. There’s a whole heap of reasons why we didn’t perform the way we wanted to at Ealing.
“We have to take into account for a lot of the squad going out there, it’s only their second or third game of senior men’s rugby for Northampton Saints.
“The likes of Archie McParland or Henry Pollock, Will Glister or Ewan Baker, Bedford was one of their first games of playing open age rugby. Naturally they’re going to be better for the experience.”Lee Radford
Being a teenager thrust into the coalface of professional sport is a familiar concept to Radford, who was aged just 17 when he became Hull FC’s youngest-ever debutant back in 1998.
“I sort of resonated with how the young lads would be feeling,” said Radford, who enjoyed a fine playing career winning two Super Leagues, a World Club Challenge and a Challenge Cup title.
“I got dished up on my first carry! So they did a little bit better than I did I think, so that's credit to them! I suppose I did alright, I got a 20-year career out of it!”
Radford’s and Northampton Saints’ biggest challenge of the new season so far comes on Saturday with a trip to Ashton Gate to face Bristol Bears.
Pat Lam’s side have conceded more than 100 points in their Premiership Rugby Cup defeats to Exeter Chiefs and Ealing Trailfinders and are due a performance in front of their home fans.
But Radford is keeping his focus purely on his own players heading into Saturday’s game.
“Coming into union for the first time this year, I don’t know much about Bristol, I’ll be brutally honest,” he explained. “I think that’s a good thing; it means we’re solely focusing on what we’re doing.
“I keep talking about the foundations and fundamentals of our defence, working on getting them right. Every opposition is going to be slightly different and have a different way of doing things, but ultimately if you get the basics right repetitively, you’re going to solve things more than you don’t.”