We sat down with Saints’ director of rugby, Chris Boyd, ahead of Northampton’s Heineken Champions Cup curtain-raiser against Racing 92 this Friday evening…
Q: What are your reflections on last week’s victory against Bath?
CB: There was yin and yang; there were parts that were decent and parts that were a bit sloppy and parts that were inaccurate. We conceded three close-to-the-line penalties which we were pretty disappointed with – we conceded one last week against Bristol, when we were really good in that area, so it’s a mindset thing. I think the frustration for everybody in that game, rightly or wrongly, was getting the balance right between the welfare of the player and the speed of the game. There were a heck of a lot of stoppages and it was a pretty slow game, so that led to a lot of frustration, but we were certainly very happy. We haven’t had a lot of success over Bath, so we were very happy to come away with five points and keep ourselves in the pack.
Q: How happy have you been with players like Karl Wilkins, who have come into the team recently, and really stepped up for you?
CB: It was Karl’s first start for us here at the Gardens and I think he’s been good. He’s a really interesting case; he was at St Joseph’s at Ipswich with Lewis [Ludlam] and didn’t get picked into the Club’s academy, so he took himself off to France and went into the Clermont academy and sort of came through the back door, really. We’re really pleased to see him flourish and I thought he was pretty decent – he’s not the complete article, but he’s been a good signing for us, as have a couple of the others.
Q: Moving on to the match against Racing 92, they’ve had a tough time of it in the French Top 14 of late. Do you read anything into that?
CB: Nothing at all. Out of their ten performances, if you pick the games they wanted to play well, put their best team up and play it properly, they’re an absolute handful. You can get sucked into the French teams by going ‘look at that, look at that and look at that’ when you know that when they put their ‘full noise’ out, which I assume they will do, those opportunities don’t exist. We know it’s a massive task – they’re chock-full of quality individuals and we’ll have to impose some stoic British resistance over them to be in the game.
Q: Can we expect to see any players return from injury in that game?
CB: I think Piers Francis is still another week away. Tom Wood is available, Ahsee [Tuala] is not quite ready for this week, but probably for next week. We’ve still got the long-termers; Teimana Harrison won’t be fit, Taqele Naiyaravoro won’t be fit, but we’re getting back to being in a not-too-bad position. Matt Proctor is probably going to be available too. We’ve obviously had a short week, going from a Saturday to a Friday, which affects your preparation, but we’re heading in the right direction.
Q: It finished 9-9 the last time Racing came to the Gardens. Can we expect to see a more open game on Friday?
CB: I don’t think the weather is supposed to be that good on Friday night, but I’d be immensely surprised if the score was 9-9. The only way you can get to nine points is three kicks and I certainly don’t think we’ll be taking three kicks and I very much doubt they will be, either.
Q: This will be the first Heineken Champions Cup match in front of an unrestricted crowd at the Gardens in nearly two years – does it feel more like the real thing because of that?
CB: We went back and had a look at a couple of those games [behind closed doors] and it’s spooky watching the games here with no people in it – it was horrible to be honest. We had a decent tussle with Bordeaux out here last year, who are obviously going very well this year, and we felt we could have won that game. They came over the top of us and we, at the end, just couldn’t hold them out, but there wasn’t a lot in it. We played Clermont here the year before and we were well beaten, they were a pretty decent side. I think there were five French clubs in the top eight last year, so they’re pretty strong at the moment. We know that this is going to be a handful, so we’re looking forward to the challenge.
Q: Do you feel we’re getting closer to getting that 80-minute performance from Saints?
CB: We’re still patchy, but we are being a little bit more clinical with the opportunities we take, which gives us a little bit more breathing space. We’ve just got to be a little bit tougher on conceding and boss the momentum a little bit more. We’re still learning every day and there’s a pretty decent feeling in the group at the moment – they’re keen to get cracking, but we’re a long way from being the finished article, that’s for sure.