Despite Northampton Saints’ Premiership Rugby Cup campaign ending with a semi-final defeat at London Irish, scrum-half Callum Braley enjoyed captaining the young side through the competition.
Saints remained in the contest at the Gtech Community Stadium right up to the closing stages, trailing by just two points as they looked to reach the final of a competition they last won in 2019.
However, a strong finish by the Exiles meant a final score of 30-18 in Brentford, and it is they who will face Exeter Chiefs next month.
Former Italy international Braley started in four of Saints’ five matches in the PRC and was one of the experienced heads used while youngsters such as Tom Lockett, Frankie Sleightholme and Henry Pollock were blooded.
Braley said: “I’ve captained a bit in my career, but this was probably the most I’ve done it in a spell and I’ve loved it.
“I love playing, I love competing and I’m just loving my time at Saints at the moment. I just want to get stuck in and keep kicking on.”Callum Braley
“Discipline was probably the biggest factor against London Irish. We had some good spells in the game, but we just couldn’t capitalise on those spells.
“We let them back in the game with ill-discipline, a few errors, and the set-piece didn’t function as well as we would have liked, either.”
Braley accepts that some of the players involved last Friday night are not guaranteed to start many games for the rest of this season, with Saints now focused solely on the Gallagher Premiership.
He has, however, challenged his colleagues involved against the Exiles to drive up standards in the squad ahead of what will be a key period of the campaign.
Braley said: “It’s a tough one. We don’t know, as a group, what game time we’re going to get in the run-in to the season.
“We’ve got a big finish as a Club, trying to get into the top four [of the Premiership] then stay in the top four and make the play-offs, but as the Cup group we don’t know how much more game time we’re going to get.
“Now the focus is, as individuals, to be as good as we can be, improve and push the boys that are playing ahead of us and try and make sure the team is best prepared going forward.”Callum Braley
Coach Matt Ferguson pinpointed Saints’ struggles at the set-piece as a reason why his side ultimately fell short in a match where they otherwise fought hard.
“They had complete dominance in that area,” Ferguson said. “That falls on me, we’ve got to do some work in that area and review what happened tonight.
“The boys worked really hard throughout that game, trying to find solutions, but ultimately if you don’t get a foothold in a game of rugby, that’s what happens to you. I just felt like we couldn’t get a foothold in anything we did unfortunately.”