It certainly was not the return to action that Northampton Saints’ players or supporters had dreamt of, and Director of Rugby Chris Boyd was left lamenting his side’s lack of ruthlessness on Sunday.
The men in Black, Green and Gold went down 21-34 to Wasps at Franklin’s Gardens as the Gallagher Premiership resumed, a result that dropped Northampton down to sixth in the league standings.
After five long months without rugby due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Saints were unable to blow away the cobwebs as two Josh Bassett tries, plus scores for Jack Willis and Ben Harris, saw Wasps come away from Northampton with a win.
Alex Mitchell and David Ribbans answered for Saints with tries of their own, with Dan Biggar contributing 11 points from the kicking tee – but despite yellow cards for Malakai Fekitoa and Lima Sopoaga, the hosts could not claw back the deficit in the closing stages.
Saints shot out of the tracks at the start of the campaign 11 months ago with a searing brand of attacking rugby, and Boyd admits his coaches and players must work hard to find that form again with opponents now wisening up to Northampton’s strengths.
“Everyone’s trying to stop us playing that rugby so for a period of time we might have to go back to playing a bit of territory and being a bit wiser with our option taking, because we are getting closed down,” he said.
“It’s a good challenge for our coaches and our senior players to find the key to unlock that.
“I think we probably created as many opportunities as Wasps did, but were sloppy with finishing, and they nailed everything they created.
“It was a long wait for not a lot. It’s pretty disappointing really because we thought we’d trained pretty well in the past two or three weeks and got ourselves to a good point.
“The endeavour needed to be matched by skill execution, and individually and collectively our decisions and skills under pressure were fairly average to be honest.
“So it’s back to the drawing board for now.”
Wasps were able to leapfrog Saints on the Premiership ladder, while next Wednesday’s opponents Bath also moved up the standings to leave Northampton in sixth.
Boyd will now turn his attention to Saturday’s trip to Twickenham Stoop to face London Irish, and is targeting a fast improvement.
“I wouldn't have thought we were rusty because we’ve built the last three weeks up and we probably had a better performance against ourselves last Friday,” Boyd added.
“It certainly wasn’t complacency but we didn’t dominate the breakdown, which we knew was going to be a big part of the game.”Chris Boyd, Director of Rugby
“Credit to Wasps, but we didn’t execute our skills under pressure and we made too many mistakes. What they created they converted, and what we created we squandered.
“We now go into a six-day break before three games in eight days, so this end to the season is not a marathon – it’s a sprint.
“You haven’t got time if you’re slow out of the blocks so we’re behind the eight ball now, and while we’re not in any way panicking, we need to be a lot better than that next week.”