Northampton Saints director of rugby Chris Boyd hopes his side will have learned some important lessons from Saturday’s Heineken Champions Cup defeat to Leinster.
The Pro14 champions travelled to Franklin’s Gardens in round three of the competition boasting a line-up packed with international talent, and ended Saints’ unbeaten start to the pool stages with a display as brutal in defence as it was ruthless in attack.
After a scintillating first 40 minutes where both sides impressed with ball in hand, the margin at half-time was narrow thanks to Ahsee Tuala’s try and the accurate boot of Dan Biggar. But after the break, Leinster showed their class with a devastating two-try burst that left Saints facing an uphill battle to get back into the contest.
“When we’ve got territory and possession, we have to find a way to convert that into points.”Chris Boyd
And while the eventual 16-43 result leaves Northampton needing a turnaround in fortunes heading into a return fixture in Dublin next week, Boyd was keen to stress that locking horns with a side of such calibre was an important step in the development of his young squad.
“One of the supporters said to me [at full-time] as he walked past the bench, ‘it’s part of the education.’ There are not very many sides in the Premiership that can step up as they did,” admitted Boyd.
“If you look at the European competition, there are only three, four or five sides that can genuinely take their game to near Test-match level – and certainly Leinster is one of them.
“What they do is bring this enormous level of physicality that you’ve got to deal with one way or the other. There’s probably only three or four sides that can do that.
“We were in the game at half-time, but I got the feeling when we were in the sheds that they probably had more petrol in the tank than we did. We probably ran out of legs at the end when they scored two tries.
“For a couple of their tries we didn’t actually miss a tackle; we just didn’t win a collision. That’s the level of physicality and fitness required if we’re going compete at any stage with teams like Leinster.”
Despite the final score, Saints did break through Leinster’s strong defensive line with regularity. For the second week in a row, centre Matt Proctor impressed with ball in hand – beating 10 defenders in just nine carries.
Plenty of gainline success saw Saints time and again camped deep inside the 22, but Leinster’s defence prevented the visiting try-line from being breached after the break.
While Boyd admitted Northampton must get better at putting something on the scoreboard from such periods of sustained pressure, he insists that the defeat will not have a negative effect on his side.
He said: “There’s no chance we’ll drop off. From my point of view, the disappointing part was the two scores right at the end.
“We had lots of possession and territory and didn’t score, then there were two soft tries at the end. When we’ve got territory and possession, we have to find a way to convert that into points.
“We have to be optimistic that we can get to their level. There wouldn’t be many teams that we play against where we have that much possession and territory and not come away with any points.
“I thought they were very good in that space. We were a little bit inaccurate, but we were inaccurate because of the pressure they put on us; they’re a good side.
“It's just part of our education, isn't it?”