Saints’ director of rugby Chris Boyd praised his young side’s steel as Northampton toppled reigning Gallagher Premiership champions Saracens in the season opener on Saturday.
Collecting their first win in north London since 2016, the men in Black, Green and Gold outscored Saracens three tries to one but ultimately it was the boot of James Grayson that earned Saints the two-point victory at Allianz Park.
And Boyd hailed the composure his men showed to grind out their first victory over the north London side in the last seven league meetings.
"For the young group to steady the ship, force a mistake from them and kick a goal to win the game was really pleasing.”Chris Boyd
“It was a significant step forward for us in the fact that there were parts of the game that were good today that weren’t always good for us last year,” Boyd said.
“I thought we defended really well in patches and after half-time when they got the aerial game going and we conceded three and then six and then nine [points], for the young group to steady the ship, get some territory and then force a mistake from them and kick a goal to win the game was really pleasing.”
Grayson scored 12 of Saints’ 27 points at the weekend, including a match-winning penalty in the 79th minute, and Boyd is delighted with the dynamism the 21-year-old has showed in recent weeks while donning the No. 10 shirt.
“I’ve got a lot of faith in Jimmy [Grayson] in the crux times,” Boyd continued.
“He had to kick another goal for us last year to win and he did a good job today too. I was pleased with his organisation, I thought he played well himself and to see him nail it over at the end was pretty good.
“The real strength in Jimmy’s game is his game management; he’s got a really good understanding of both his personal attitude to the game and what suits the team and he’s starting to find that sweet spot between how he likes the game to be run and what’s best for the team.
“Each week he’s got better for us this year and he’s got a massive job to do for us while [Dan] Biggar’s away - he becomes our alpha male when Dan’s not here. It’s a really good place for him to learn.”
And Boyd also had high praise for David Ribbans – who sealed his 50th appearance in Saints’ colours with a third try in two weeks, while scooping the Man of the Match award at Allianz Park still aged just 24.
“I think David Ribbans has been outstanding for the last two weeks.
“He got a couple of tries against Leicester but if you look at a lock’s all-round game – the set-piece work, carry work, clean-out work, defensive tackle work – I think he can do all of that. He’s a really, really good athlete and I think he’s developed a nice tough edge.
“He’s an important part of the cog for us and today he linked up nicely with Moony [Alex Moon] and Alex Coles – who’s just a youngster but did really well to shift from lock to No. 6.
“So I think for the guys to grind out a victory was really, really good.”
Heading home for the first Premiership fixture at Franklin’s Gardens this weekend, Boyd’s side will need to conquer current second-place Worcester Warriors to keep their momentum going.
But the Saints director of rugby is under no illusions about the challenges facing Saints this term as they look to at least replicate last season’s top four finish.
“Right from one to 12, the league is going to be tighter than it was last year so every point counts.
“I think we’ve got enough talent, enough enthusiasm and enough ability that if we get an opportunity to score tries we will. But I was also really impressed with the steel we showed at times in defence – you’ve got to be good on both sides of the ball.
“We were guilty last year of being pretty good with the ball but a bit soft sometimes when the other guys had the ball and we conceded too many soft tries.
“But if we can find some steel in our defence to go along with our optimism in our attack then we’ll do ok.”