Director of Rugby Chris Boyd tipped his cap to a resolute defensive showing from Northampton Saints, as they secured a narrow 12-13 victory over defending Gallagher Premiership champions Exeter Chiefs on Saturday afternoon.
Playing into a strong first-half wind, Saints were time and again called into defensive duty as Exeter looked to capitalise on the conditions that awarded them the territorial advantage – at half-time, 73% of play had taken place inside the Northampton half.
Normally so dangerous inside the opposition 22, Exeter were not allowed to be clinical in that area as Saints fronted up with a physical defensive display. A number of interventions proved to be crucial, as Will Witty had the ball knocked from his grasp in the act of scoring while Dave Ewers was also held up over the line.
Saints boss Boyd admitted the emphasis from Northampton’s coaches last week was all about fronting up against the Chiefs when defending so close to the try line.
“It was a gutsy and gritty performance,” he said. “We know that coming to Sandy Park on a heavy ground in tough conditions is not perfect for us.
“These wouldn’t be the conditions we choose to play in, but we’ve struggled here before so to grind out a gutsy performance is pleasing.
“When we have come here in the past, whenever Exeter get within five metres of the goal-line they have scored fairly easily against us. Today I thought our goal-line defence and set-piece work was very decent, especially the scrum.
“I think the difference for us was that we fronted up physically close to the goal-line in defence. That’s 10% down to technique and 90% is desire.”Chris Boyd, Director of Rugby
“Some technical adjustments have been made around what they have done to us close to our own line in the past. That doesn’t require intense training just some walk-throughs so that everyone knows their roles.
“We talked about the fact that we needed to stand up there because in the past we haven’t – we did that today.”
Despite the significant territorial disadvantage in the first-half, Saints did force their way over the line through No.8 Shaun Adendorff on one of the few occasions they entered the hosts’ 22.
Boyd believes that score gave his side a big psychological boost when playing with the conditions against them.
He said: “The seven points we scored into the wind was really important. We won the toss and decided to play into the wind – but that can backfire on you and you can be 30 points down at half-time, then too hard to chase.
“We thought if we could chew up the first period and not be too far behind then we could control the territory in the second half. As you saw, the team playing into the wind just has to hang onto the ball and do the best you can.
“We defended much better than we have in the past here and that was the deciding factor.”
The win propelled Saints into the Premiership’s top four, where they will stay regardless of results elsewhere on Sunday.
But while Boyd admits the result against the defending champions was significant for his squad, with so much rugby still to play this term, the Kiwi coach was not getting carried away.
“Time will tell, it’s a really difficult competition,” he added. “You might miss a bonus point in week one that ends up having a big effect in week 22, so you never know what’s important and what’s not.
“We will take pleasure in the fact that we came here and fronted up. It’s the first time since 2014 that we’ve won down here, so we’re pleased to have gotten the points.”