Director of rugby Chris Boyd believes the ability to watch elite sport is incredibly important for the mental health of many people during the pandemic – and ahead of this weekend’s trip to Gloucester, encouraged his Northampton Saints squad to boost the morale of those supporting the side from home.
It has been almost a year since Boyd’s charges last ran out in front of a packed out Franklin's Gardens, and the Kiwi coach insists everybody within the group appreciates how important it is for supporters across the country to still be able to watch their team playing every weekend.
The men in Black, Green and Gold have had to contend with an enforced five-week hiatus from playing since the Boxing Day win over Worcester Warrriors.
But Boyd insists that he and his Saints side are desperate to play their part in raising spirits in Northampton when rugby gets back underway on Saturday afternoon at Kingsholm (kick-off: 3pm).
“One of the benefits to society at the moment is the fact that high performance sport, albeit without crowds, is still going ahead,” Boyd said.
“So the rugby supporters, the football supporters, the darts supporters, the tennis supporters, the cricket supporters, whatever they are, at least it still gives them something to hang their hat on.
“It’s not the same for all people because not everybody enjoys sport, but for those people for who watching sport forms a very key part of their life, the fact we’re still able to play gives a degree of stability to the general population around that.
"We’d be in a far worse situation as a community if there was no professional sport at the moment."Chris Boyd
“The players have a good degree of perspective on that because they are still able to come to work and they do feel one of the contributions they can make to Covid society is to keep doing what they’re doing.
“We are relentlessly talking to them to make sure we don’t have any issues around Covid and guys have to keep being squeaky clean because we can’t afford to have a mistake.”
In the same way that Saints supporters are missing the camaraderie of a matchday at Franklin's Gardens, Boyd admits that the social side of life at Saints is what the squad are missing the most.
“By nature the bit that people miss the most is the social component, and we haven’t sat down as a group and relaxed and had a beer together for 12 months,” he said.
“That inability to just relax in other people’s company is really tough and we haven’t done anything like that in such a long time. We used to sit down and have our lunch together, now you have to take it away with you.
“The thing about it is that inside our bubble, it’s a very controlled environment. The players come into the car park one way, go into the changing room one way, they get tested, they have to fill out an app and we’re socially distanced in the gym so we only have fewer than ten in there at a time and it’s very, very sterile and very controlled.
“What is hard for the players, like for everyone else, is when you go outside that controlled environment and you have to be very careful with that.
“Mentally it’s been very tough because players love to play and train and get on with business, but it’s just what it is and they feel they’re in a privileged situation to be able to come to work.
“Life has changed a lot in terms of social cohesion but we have a lot of electronic groups and a lot of banter so there is a very social component in that and it helps to bridge the gap.”