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Boyd: Saints thriving under pressure of must-win games

Northampton Saints’ Director of Rugby, Chris Boyd, believes the challenge of playing ‘knock-out rugby’ is helping his side to flourish as the Gallagher Premiership run-in hits fever pitch.

The men in Black, Green and Gold ran in five tries in an emphatic 39-22 victory over Bristol Bears on Saturday, to notch up their third straight bonus-point win in the league.

Tom Collins chipped in with two more tries – taking his personal tally to six in his last five matches – while Rory Hutchinson, Lewis Ludlam and Tommy Freeman were all also on the scoresheet at cinch Stadium at Franklin’s Gardens.

That triumph sent Saints up to fifth in the Premiership standings, four points behind fourth-placed Exeter Chiefs with a game in hand.

Ahead of a two-week break from league action as European competition resumes, Boyd admitted that after a frustrating run of defeats in February eroded any margin for error, Northampton have relished the do-or-die pressure on them in recent weeks.

“I wasn’t bad at maths at school, but I sat there three or four weeks ago, trying to do all the permutations and stuff, and I’m pretty certain we can’t afford to lose from here on,” he said.

“We’ve been treating it as knock-out football for the last three weeks, and we’ll see if that’s enough or not at the end.

“We lost four games in a row and three of those were very fine margins.

“We’ve managed now, since we’ve been playing knock-out rugby, to sneak the last three with maximum points – so it’s knock-out football and we’re enjoying playing it.”

Saints were convincing winners on home soil against Bristol, completing a season’s double over the Bears for the first time since the 2016/17 campaign.

Despite dominating the first half, several chances went begging for Northampton and two tries were chalked off by the TMO – with Boyd admitting his side’s lack of ruthlessness caused him some frustration at the interval.

But with Bears reduced to 13 men at one point during the second half, with both Semi Radradra and Fitz Harding seeing yellow for poor tackles, the men in Black, Green and Gold closed out the game with plenty of efficiency.

Boyd added: “We created eight good opportunities in the first half and converted three; so we were pretty happy with the three, but we weren’t very happy with the five that we didn’t convert.

“Probably more importantly, we conceded some pretty meek scores the other way – the one that was particularly disappointing was the one just before half-time.

“We’d scored a pretty decent try [through Lewis Ludlam], worked pretty hard for it, then gave up a penalty and conceded a try.

“It wasn’t all roses at half-time, but we knew if we kept sticking to what the plan was and kept doing it, then we had a pretty good chance of coming out the right side at the end.”

Chris Boyd, Director of Rugby

“[Defence coach] Ian Vass has done a really good job with the defence, and we’ve been pretty decent with the attack for a long period of time – Sam Vesty is a real magician in that space.

“You’ve got to be good on both sides of the ball, and we are definitely getting better when we don’t have it. We’re not where we’d like to be yet but, while we’ve been guilty of still conceding some soft tries, we’re harder to break down than we used to be.”

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