We sat down with Northampton Saints’ Director of Rugby, Chris Boyd, ahead of this weekend’s Gallagher Premiership trip to the Brentford Community Stadium to face London Irish…
Q: There’s yet another crucial Gallagher Premiership game coming up at London Irish on Saturday, what do you make of them as a team?
CB: Statistically, they’re probably one of the best teams in the competition. If you look at their set-piece, their defence, their attack, their breakdown and where they sit in the statistics that the league keeps, they’re a very good side. They have some very good individuals, so they’re a tough team and we’re down there on what is a St Patrick’s Day fixture for them – they’re expecting a reasonably big crowd – so it’s going to be a seriously good contest, I’d imagine.
Q: How will Saints’ players deal with what is expected to be a rowdy atmosphere in a ground we’ve not visited before?
CB: We know what’s coming, so it’s just a matter of getting our own house in order – tweaking it to look after the specific things that they bring, but we’re looking forward to it.
Q: How far do you feel London Irish have progressed over the course of the season, having played them early in the campaign?
CB: In the last couple of years, they’ve been capable of beating anybody on their day, but like most teams in the Premiership, they’ve been a little bit up-and-down. We’ve been a little bit up-and-down, and I’d say the teams that are through the middle of the competition all suffer from a little bit of inconsistency.
Q: We’ve got a few players back from international duty, just how much of a boost is it to have them return?
CB: They’re certainly all fit and available for selection, but they’ve just had eight weeks in a different campaign. We got them all back at different times this week, so we’ll have to see how they’re feeling and how that pans out.
Q: In terms of Dan Biggar, you’re not just getting a quality player back, but a guy who has captained his country recently. How much will having him back help, leadership-wise?
CB: Dan will always lead around game plan stuff on the field – he’s really good when you cross the white line because he demands standards. He demands standards off the field too, actually. He’s very diligent with his personal rehab and preparation, and stuff. He’s also very good at game management preparation, like attack meetings and strategy meetings. He’s very active in those, but the nice thing in his absence, and over the last couple of years, we’ve seen the growth in confidence in people like George Furbank, Fraser Dingwall, Jimmy Grayson. They are all now contributing much more to the environment – three years ago, when I came here, those boys were still in the Academy. It’s been a progression for them, but we’re starting to get a nice blend of people that are prepared to have an opinion.
Q: And with Courtney Lawes, you’ve got someone who can play in both the back and second rows…
CB: Back row is his primary position for us. We talked to him 18 months ago and we looked at the balance of the squad – I think he’s potentially world-class in either position. As England found out in the game, when they had to throw him into the second row [against Ireland] he can still do a job in the second row, but I think he can do a different role for you from six because he gets himself into different positions, post-set-piece, and adopts different roles. I’m relaxed either way, but we see him as a six for us.
Q: How is Lewis Ludlam progressing in his comeback from injury?
CB: It’s been a little bit of a battle for him. He got dinged in that first game of the Six Nations and it’s been a bit of a haul for him, but he’s getting closer.
Q: How are some of the other players’ recoveries going?
CB: Ehren Painter has a detached bicep, so he’s on the long road, not the short road. I’m not sure we’ll see him this season again, to be honest. It’s quite a significant injury and a blow for us because he’s been playing really well, but other guys have got to stand up and do a job. Matt Proctor is getting close again – he’s just got a hamstring problem that seems to have come and gone and has niggled away a bit, so we’ve changed a little bit of our strategy on the treatment there. We hope to see Taqele Naiyaravoro back before the end of the season, but it’s been a long haul for him. It was quite a serious knee reconstruction and it was a 20-26 week recovery, from memory. We’re on about week 20 now, so we hope to see him out in anger in the next month.
Q: It must have been pleasing to see Tommy Freeman come back from injury at Saracens last weekend?
CB: He was one of many that I thought were pretty decent on Saturday. I was pleased for Tommy, he had a nice little cameo. He’ll come back into selection contention – I think Tom Collins and Courtnall Skosan have been playing pretty well for us recently, but it was good to see him back.
Q: The grounds will be firming up from this point, how much will that help Saints’ style of play?
CB: We certainly like to play across the top of the ground, so it’s nice to have a bit of blue with a bit of yellow in it – that’s been great to see at training this week and the boys have been enjoying working in the sunshine!