Northampton Saints’ director of rugby Chris Boyd is hoping that the challenge of a new competition will galvanise his side, as Champions Cup rugby returns to Franklin’s Gardens this Friday.
The men in Black, Green and Gold will look to put an agonising last-minute defeat to Bristol Bears behind them as they lock horns with last season’s Top14 table-toppers, Bordeaux Bègles.
Up to 2,000 supporters will be allowed to attend the clash at the Gardens for the first time since February under the Government’s three-tier system of restrictions announced in November.
And Boyd is hoping that hearing the voices of Saints supporters ringing around the stadium again, as well as the clean slate of a new competition, will spur his Northampton squad on to their opening win of the season.
“Maybe Europe’s come at the right time,” he said.
“We get a fresh start against Bordeaux at home this week in front of some fans, which will be really nice.”Chris Boyd, Director of Rugby
“And we’ll welcome back three or four key players, which will change the dynamic at little.
“We've got a very tough pool with Leinster and Bordeaux who are good sides from the Pro14 and the Top14 but we’ll throw ourselves into that first game and see what happens.”
Boyd’s men flew out of the blocks last Friday at Ashton Gate, sending David Ribbans and Piers Francis over in quick succession early in the game.
But, despite James Grayson adding a penalty to Saints’ tally, their hosts clawed their way back into the game through Henry Purdy and Piers O’Conor before an over-time Sam Bedlow penalty left Saints with only a losing bonus point to show for their efforts.
“We were masters of our own destiny in a lot of ways,” Boyd said after the 18-17 reverse.
“We had a reasonable first half, a pretty decent start and we needed to find a way in the last 20 minutes to close the game out, but we faltered in a couple of key areas.
“But I thought it was a much-improved effort and our defence was really good, particularly the stuff around the ruck and the maul.
“No one’s happy to be losing but everyone is trying really hard and we’ve just got to be better.
“The boys are hurting incredibly badly because they thought they finally got the rub of the green; it wasn’t to be but there is some upside and we’ve got to keep chipping away.”