Chris Boyd insists his Northampton Saints side are happy to go into the Gallagher Premiership play-offs as underdogs, with the Director of Rugby now looking ahead to a winner-takes-all semi-final after a thrilling 65-26 win over Newcastle Falcons sealed Saints’ top-four place on final day.
Ten tries at cinch Stadium at Franklin’s Gardens ensured Saints took the last of the semi-final spots, meaning they have a trip to East Midlands rivals Leicester Tigers to look forward to next Saturday.
The fact that Leicester won both regular-season derbies and finished top of the table means they will go into the tie as favourites, but Boyd believes Saints are fully capable of defying the odds.
He said: “You don’t get a choice [about being named as underdogs] but I think you look at the sport that’s been about the place, even rugby, in the last couple of weeks.
“There weren’t very many people that fancied La Rochelle [against Leinster in the Heineken Champions Cup final], but if you’re in you’ve got a chance.
“Our worst two performances this year have both been against Leicester, home and away they were shockers.
“We’ll have to play a whole lot better against them to challenge them.”
But despite Saints’ ten-try effort on Saturday, Boyd was less impressed by a poor start to the second half that saw Newcastle score three tries in nine minutes to momentarily reduce a 36-7 half-time gap to 36-26.
He said: “That was clearly a long way from the script.”
“The danger of a game like this, where you know that trying to win the game is so important to get that fourth spot, you invariably push the game too hard to try things.
“We knew that if we went forward and created platforms to work off, we’d probably get enough platforms to get a few tries, but we tried to force things too much.
“There’s probably not much out of that you take into Leicester. That’s going to be a completely different game.”Chris Boyd
“To be fair, two months ago I think we were sitting eighth or ninth and a long way away from looking fourth.
“We talked about the fact we were probably playing knock-out football and we’ve managed to just sneak into that top four.”
And Boyd remains very excited about Tommy Freeman’s potential after the 21-year-old ran in a hat-trick against the Falcons, who he tormented from either wing during the course of the afternoon.
Freeman’s breakthrough has been the latest example of young talent being given time to shine during Boyd’s four seasons in charge and his performance was yet more evidence of him posing a threat no matter where he plays across the back three.
“I actually think he can play in a number of positions,” the Director of Rugby added on the young back.
“But at the end of the day, I think he’s got a very good skill set for full-back, he’s got a very good skill set for a winger and he could easily play at 13 as well.
“He’s big, strong, fast and he’s a pretty good footballer, so I don’t think it matters where he plays. He’s a good player and he’s not the complete article, either.”