Director of Rugby Chris Boyd believes a solid game plan and defensive doggedness at key moments were both key to Northampton Saints’ tight victory at home to Sale Sharks.
Back-to-back defeats against Bath and Harlequins had highlighted the need for calm heads to prevail in tight encounters within the Saints camp.
But on Saturday the men in Black, Green and Gold held off a second-half fightback from Sale to notch up a crucial Gallagher Premiership victory, courtesy of a Teimana Harrison try and 12 points from the boot of James Grayson.
Given the physical threat posed by the Sharks, Northampton’s tactics were clear – with the hosts kicking to keep the ball in play in to force the visiting forwards to constantly move around the park.
Saints overcame several periods of intense pressure from the Manchester side, adapting after conceding a flurry of early penalties and preventing Sale from turning their 63% territory into enough points to win the game.
Boyd expressed his delight that when the chips were down, his side stood up to be counted and showed their character, particularly during a 20+ phase defensive set that kept the Sharks out with the clock in the red.
“I’m pleased we didn’t give away a penalty then,” he said. “We were out on our feet, but I think so were they.
“Part of our game plan was to keep the ball on the field and try and move those big fellas around. They didn’t want to kick out either, which created some of that aerial ping pong that we don’t particularly enjoy, but at the end of the day it was the right tactic to play.
“The pleasing thing was we came in with a tactic that was a little bit more rigid than we normally would, and we executed it reasonably well. It helped us get the result.
“You’re either playing a game of space or a game of contact or a subtle mixture of both. Either way, defences and attacks have to be nimble enough to shift and move and change to the pictures that you get. We certainly don’t have any fear playing either way.
“In the second-half, we were trying to be clinically accurate in the back third, patient in the middle third and ruthless in the front third. We didn’t really achieve what we were looking for and their two tries came from field position that we gifted them from discipline and errors.
“Obviously though we are delighted to get four points here in a victory at home. We came under significant pressure and managed to navigate our way out of it.
“We’ve lost plenty of those sort of games in the last 12 months, so to come down to a tight game and get a victory was very pleasing.”
Grayson’s kicking was crucial to the result on his first appearance since lining up at the Ricoh Arena against Wasps last month.
The fly-half’s second-half penalties, including two sweet strikes from distance, proved to be the difference and Boyd insists the ability of his squad to step in when required will be vital as the race for the Gallagher Premiership’s top-four rages on.
“His kicking was significant in the game,” said Boyd of Grayson. “I thought he kicked particularly well at the posts. He marshalled the troops and controlled the game generally pretty well as well.
“I’m very pleased for him, he’s had a bit of time out of the group where he wasn’t getting what he wanted, but he got an opportunity and took it well.
“You can’t navigate your way through this competition, which is so long and so relentless, without using your whole squad. It’s very pleasing that you can bring a guy out and another guy will do a job for him.
“I look forward to all of our games. It’s such an even, tough competition and with the way the world finds itself at the moment, it’s a pleasure to be coming to work and hopefully keeping some fans and supporters happy. I think we’re just playing our bit.”