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Boyd will ‘stay in the moment’ during final home match

We sat down with Northampton Saints’ Director of Rugby Chris Boyd, with the men in Black, Green and Gold preparing for this weekend’s Gallagher Premiership clash against Newcastle Falcons with a spot in the competition’s semi-finals on the line…

Q: What are your feelings ahead of your final home game in charge of Northampton Saints? 
CB: I try and stay in the moment, really. The important thing is we get our preparation right for the game here. It is going to be hard not to reflect back on my time here, but we’re trying to keep it in the moment. 

Q: How do you look back on your four seasons with the Club? 
CB: Covid has been pretty much the only negative. We haven’t made as much progress as quickly as I would have liked but, Covid aside, I’ve loved my time here. I’ve enjoyed the Gardens, enjoyed the people, so we just want to finish it in the right way. 

Q: How would you compare the team you inherited in 2018 to the one you have now as we come to the end of the 2021/22 season? 
CB: I think the biggest thing that I noticed, even watching training this week, is that when I first came here Dan Biggar was having to shoulder a lot of the responsibility of talking on the field and holding guys to account. There were guys in the very first year, like Dylan Hartley, but he was injured for a long part of that and retired. It left guys like Tom Wood, Alex Waller and Biggs was a very big part of it. I watched with interest in training that he’s able to concentrate on running the game far more because of the emergence of people like Lewis Ludlam, Fraser Dingwall, George Furbank, Rory Hutchinson, Alex Coles and Alex Mitchell – Jimmy Grayson has also done a good job. Those guys were all Academy players, pretty much, when I first arrived here.  

All of those guys have had a little bit of time to find themselves in the environment and find their voice and collectively those guys have taken over a lot of driving of quite a lot of things in the organisation, which has freed the burden on Dan Biggar, not only in the running of the game for us but in trying to have a profound influence on the environment. I think the emergence of the young guys, and their ability to lead, control and have influence over the organisation, has been particularly satisfying.  

Q: What are you expecting to see from Newcastle? 
CB: I think they’ve beaten us here two or three times over the last few years. They have an abrasive forward pack with a lot of runners in the backline. They’ve got some real quality backs, dangerous backs, and they’ve got a workmanlike forward pack – a very good forward pack, in fact. It’s a difficult time of the year for different reasons. Different teams have different motivations, whether they’ve started rebuilding for next year or if they want to finish in a tidy manner. There are ulterior motives around motivation, but we’re certainly not going to take them lightly because we haven’t had a great track record against them. 

Q: It’s also Dean Richards’ last match as the Falcons’ Director of Rugby… 
CB: He’s had a great run in the Premiership for a long period of time. He’s a great servant of English rugby, generally, as a player and as a coach. He’s a good man. 

Q: How exciting is the match as an occasion, knowing a win will qualify you for the Premiership play-offs? 
CB: Being at home is great, the fact that it’s all but sold out is great. I think eight weeks ago we were sitting eighth, but we’ve had a bit of momentum and we need to keep it going. It’s been an unusual situation where we’ve only played one game in a month, and we’re not the only side to do that, so you’d question whether the draw was properly worked out with so many teams having so little rugby at this time of year. None of the coaching staff have ever been through a situation where we’ve only had one game in a month in the middle of a season, so we’ve tried to cobble together the best programme we can to keep ourselves sharp and keep our boys on the knife the whole month. We’ve taken them off and hopefully sharpened them back up again. 

Q: How much has the ‘knockout rugby’ mentality you’ve instilled in the players the last three months helped build momentum for this play-off push? 
CB: We talked about that when we had a couple of narrow losses against Sale and Exeter – I think we lost both of those by lack of kicks close to full-time. We had a disappointing performance at Gloucester, where we were up by a long way and let them come back into the game. I think it was the Wasps game that we sat down and said: “OK, we’re playing knockout football now.” That was five games ago and we’ve bought ourselves a get-out-of-jail-free card by getting that couple of points against Saracens, but also accumulating fives, rather than fours, so we’re still alive. We’ve had a pretty good couple of months. 

Q: It was announced this week that Tom Wood is retiring at the end of the season. What has he been like to coach these last few years?
CB: When I came here, there were guys I needed to make a connection with immediately that were influential, and he was certainly one of them. With Tom’s retirement, there’s probably only three of the old school left, really, in Courtney Lawes, Michael Haywood and Alex Waller. They’re the last three of the old regime here, so it’s been a transition period over the last four or five years. Obviously under Jim Mallinder they had some really good success here and that period of time where Jim built a good team here. Those cycles don’t go on forever and part of my job was when that cycle was coming to its end, to see if we could rebuild another cycle. Hopefully we’ve put some foundations in place for the boys to carry on. 

Q: Aaron Hinkley has signed a contract for next season after impressing on trial, how much of an impact has he made? 
CB: He’s a really good footballer, Aaron. He’s different because he’s a little bit smaller but he’s aggressive, he’s physical, he’s robust and he’s a bit of a ball hog. He likes to get in and around the ball and I think it’s testament to him as he had a difficult time when he came out of the England Under-20 environment as a bit of a rockstar. Things haven’t gone his way and I’ve often said to the youngsters, you can either take the high road or the low road and often the boys that go on the low road find their way again, often with some good resolve and some personal strength, a bit more resilient. I think Aaron took the low road and he’s found a home here. I’m very happy and I think he’ll be good for the Club. 

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