Director of Rugby Chris Boyd admits his Northampton Saints side had to take a good look at themselves in the mirror at half-time of Saturday’s European Challenge Cup victory over Dragons.
The men in Black, Green and Gold started slowly but recovered from 22-3, 32-17 and 39-24 down to eventually prevail 43-39 after Tom Collins’ late try capped a remarkable comeback in Newport.
The result sees Saints progress to the quarter-finals of the competition, with Harlequins and Ulster locking horns this evening to decide who travels to Franklin’s Gardens to take on Northampton in the last eight.
But despite showing huge character in the come-from-behind victory, Boyd revealed there will be plenty for his side to improve on this week as they review the match.
“The first half was rubbish, obviously,” he said. “We made dumb decisions, we executed badly and we didn’t work hard enough – so they threw the first barrage at us and we didn’t respond. We dug for cover, and we had to have a look at ourselves in the mirror at half-time.
“But it’s a young group, we left 14 guys at home, and we talked about the fact that if we played with enough tempo, we might get a bit of an edge in the last ten or 15 minutes which turned out to be the case.
“For this group to hold their own and find a way, there’s actually some quite encouraging things in there.”Chris Boyd, Director of Rugby
“Credit where credit’s due – we came here for a Challenge Cup pool match a couple of years ago and Dragons’ advancement is very significant. They’ve got a very good spine, some very good players and they should be encouraged with where they can go.
“We will be disappointed with our performance overall because we conceded meekly at times, and we lost the referee at times with ill-discipline, so we’ve got lots to improve on.”
Discipline was a key factor against Dragons, with Saints falling behind after losing Ollie Sleightholme, Alex Coles and JJ Tonks to yellow cards either side of half-time, but then coming roaring back into the contest with Elliot Dee in the sin-bin for the hosts.
Boyd was impressed with how Northampton stuck in the fight despite playing with 13 men for ten minutes.
He said: “It was tough and I don’t know whether we’re going to have to start training for this, because there’s such a barrage of red cards and yellow cards across the leagues at the moment.
“We were down to 13; one was dumb and one was a bit unlucky. In isolation it probably wasn’t a yellow card, but with all the stuff that was going on, we incurred the referee’s wrath.
“We did pick our way through that, got back to full strength and really started to put the hammer down, and we started to become more fluid. There were some good cameos off the bench, which helped us.”
Taqele Naiyaravoro was back amongst the tries for Northampton, crossing twice at Rodney Parade, while Ollie Sleightholme added his fifth score in two weeks.
But Boyd picked out the performances of two other scorers, skipper Teimana Harrison and man-of-the-match Alex Mitchell, following the breathless victory.
“Teimana was excellent across all of his things, Alex Mitchell did some amazingly good things and some poor things as well,” he added.
“He does need to add some consistency to his game because he made a couple of mistakes that he will be really disappointed with.
“There were some good performances off the bench and that group have not played or trained much together. It was a bit rusty and it showed.
“But you’ve got to celebrate your wins. We’re now into the quarter-finals and we came here to win the game.
“We now look forward to playing either Harlequins or Ulster at home next week. Whichever side we face, I’m sure it will be a difficult assignment.”