Director of Rugby Chris Boyd is hoping his Northampton Saints side can use their Boxing Day victory over Worcester Warriors as a springboard to push back towards the right end of the Gallagher Premiership standings.
A penalty try plus scores from Alex Mitchell, Dan Biggar and Mikey Haywood secured a crucial five points that saw Saints move up off the bottom of the league table.
And with clashes against London Irish and then East Midlands rivals Leicester Tigers on the horizon, Boyd admits that while aspects of Northampton’s performance are improving, there are still plenty of areas of growth for the New Year.
“Obviously we’re very pleased to play against Worcester at home and get five points, so from an outcome point of view we couldn’t have asked for any better,” he said.
“We are very happy to take the five points but know that we need to keep building on our game. We’ve stopped digging the hole, we’re coming out of it, inch by inch, and we need to back it up with a performance next week.
“There are parts of our game that haven’t worked particularly well in the last month, but we have, across the things that are important to our game, seen improvement.
“Our defence has gotten better, our tackle percentages have gotten higher, our dominant tackles have gotten higher, our system errors have got better – so there is clearly a better understanding of our defensive system and the application of it.
“Our kick chase has got more accurate and better, we are creating plenty of chances. What we need to work at now is to be more ruthless with our execution to finish those chances and build scoreboard pressure with some tries.
“There are parts of our game where we need to be more ruthless, accurate and more patient, but it will come.
“With Worcester it was 12th playing 11th in the standings, so that was discouraging and we have aspirations to be at the other end of the table. But every single game in this competition is important.”
Boyd turned a negative into a positive as Saints lost an unwell Fraser Dingwall at half-time, with wing Taqele Naiyaravoro coming into the action in his place and showing glimpses of his bulldozing best.
Fly-half Biggar produced a man-of-the-match showing in the No.10 jersey, but Boyd was quick to praise all of his senior players who he believes stepped up when the chips were down.
He said: “[Losing Fraser] was a good opportunity to get Taqele Naiyaravoro out there. By his own very high standards he’s not been at his best of late, but I thought against Worcester he got more space, and ran with more determination and enthusiasm, so there were a couple of positives there.
“Every team has got to have a guardian of the standards. Dan Biggar does that really well and keeps boys on point.
“He’s got a wealth of experience and in critical situations, you need your best players to be playing well.
“You saw Lewis Ludlam get a critical turnover, you saw Courtney Lawes who was very natural on the ball, you saw Dave Ribbans soldier in his volume of carrying, you saw Dan Biggar make contributions when he needed to.
“You need your best players to carry you when you’re in a little bit of a hole, and I thought those guys did a really good job with that.”
Similar contributions from the key men will be crucial to Saints’ aspirations of returning towards the top end of the table in the New Year.
Boyd insists that every point is going to count in 2021 given the tight nature of the standings already this season – with the win seeing Northampton leapfrog back into seventh position following the weekend’s matches.
“It’s an incredibly tight competition and the difference between places is a sixpence – it’s going to be really tough,” he added.
“From an outcome point of view, we think that if we prepare right and practice well during the week and get confidence from that, we don’t fear playing against anybody.
“Will we win all our games? No, we won’t. Do we think there’s a bridge to far anywhere? No, there isn’t. So, we’ll go about our business and if we play well we’ll get what we deserve.”