Director of Rugby Chris Boyd believes Northampton Saints’ intensity in training was a crucial factor in blowing away the cobwebs ahead of Saturday’s victory over Gloucester.
The men in Black, Green and Gold won 31-26 at Kingsholm to record their second Gallagher Premiership win on the bounce, lifting them to seventh in the table following the weekend’s round of matches.
Despite not running out for a fixture since Boxing Day, Saints produced an attacking display – particularly in the second half – which showed no evidence of the side’s skillset being affected by the significant delay.
Playing into a ferocious wind after the break, Boyd was thrilled to see that challenge overcome by a quick cluster of tries. A score from Rory Hutchinson plus Shaun Adendorff’s double, all in the space of ten minutes, killed the game off after Gloucester had stretched out to an eight-point lead.
“Obviously, it’s a very important win for us,” said Boyd. “All wins in the Premiership are going to be important; the league is going to be incredibly tight, so for us to get a win down here was very important.
“It’s been five weeks since we’ve played so I thought we’d be rusty. In some things we were rusty, but we’ve done a lot of fast training over that five weeks. I say five weeks, for two of those our training base was closed down because of COVID. When we’ve been able to, we’ve tried to replicate game tempo as much as possible.
“The combination of them slowing the ball down and their fast line speed creating pressure in midfield was a challenge – it was a battle for us. We were disappointed in the first half that we didn’t convert some opportunities into points.
“We were probably good for a try or two more but I thought Gloucester defended particularly well in the first period. Under the scrutiny and heat they put on our ball in midfield, I thought we coped pretty well.”
One area that functioned particularly well in Kingsholm, particularly given the windy conditions, was the set-piece.
Gloucester boasted one of the Premiership’s most successful lineouts heading into the clash, but Saints did a good job of disrupting their operation, winning four turnovers in the air.
Northampton added one scrum turnover to that tally, plus a late scrum penalty that crucially pushed the lead out to two scores, and Boyd insisted emphasis placed on the set-piece in preparation paid off.
He said: “It was an area that we targeted. They’ve been at 94%, top of the league, with their lineout success before today and their scrum is very disruptive.
“So credit to Phil Dowson and Matt Ferguson who did a very good job at putting a plan in place to give us space off the back of it. For the vast majority of the time our set-piece was pretty good.”
Saints supporters would have been concerned seeing George Furbank forced off after a brutal mid-air clash of heads with Santiago Carreras in the first-half. Thankfully, the England international was up and speaking to the coaching staff shortly after.
But his replacement, young fullback Tommy Freeman, caught the eye off the bench as he had a crucial hand in two of Northampton’s second-half scores.
“It’s one of the things about youth”, added Boyd. “Young guys like Tommy don’t get too bogged down by the occasion.
“There’s a lot of good young talent in this country and we’ve got half a dozen youngsters in our academy who are all going to be good Premiership players over a long period of time. Tommy Freeman is a good player.
“We probably had to introduce him earlier than we would have liked, but you don’t get to control that. With Dan Biggar going back to Wales and Furbank getting a crooked nose, he’ll probably get another go next week.”