With the start of the new 2023/24 season rapidly approaching for Northampton Saints, lock Alex Coles is eager to replicate the fast start he made last term and put his very best rugby on the pitch.
The 23-year-old experienced an ups and down campaign in 2022/23 – with his early-season form earning him a first international cap against Argentina at Twickenham in November, before injury and the fine form of his teammates saw him drop down the pecking order at cinch Stadium at Franklin’s Gardens towards the back end of the Gallagher Premiership season.
While the men in Black, Green and Gold catapulted themselves into the play-offs, Coles found himself sidelined at times during the run-in, but he insists that spell taught him some important lessons and has only fuelled his fire heading into 2023/24.
“When I came back, I felt like having played for England I had to be the best player on the pitch in every game, and prove I deserved to have that experience,” he said.
“Being a new international, I thought I needed to do something special, but that’s not how it had to be. When I came back, I just tried a bit too hard, and it just wasn’t working.
“Then I had a couple of concussions, and when I got back everyone was fit in the second row and back row, and playing well.
“They just couldn’t find a place for me in the team and it was super frustrating. We were fighting for top four, so I was fully behind the team and I wished us all the success, but it can be tough watching on and not playing – it’s not something I want to get too used to!
“But I’ve been looking forward to a fresh start this season and I want to try to impose myself again.”Alex Coles
“Stuff can change really quick in rugby, and that happened to me last season, so I’ll mentally be better for it. It’s about trying not to get too carried away when things go well, and then trying not to get too frustrated when things go badly.
“I will learn from it and it’s better to have that experience earlier than later on.”
With three England caps under his belt now and 88 games played for Saints, Coles (who also captained Northampton twice in the 2021/22 Premiership Rugby Cup campaign) is happy to add his voice to the vast number of leaders in the squad.
He said: “We’ve got lots of people willing to talk and hold each other accountable to drive standards, now more than ever before.
“But especially among the forwards, I’ve had a big role over the past few years in the lineout area and I enjoy taking some responsibility.
“I’m not thinking of it as any sort of formal leadership thing because we’ve got enough leaders in the team that do a great job already.
“It comes with a bit of experience that people take control of the team themselves and it’s something I'm happy to do, working alongside others. It’s not just one or two individuals.”Alex Coles
Saints start their season with four games in the newly-formatted Premiership Rugby Cup competition which includes Championship opposition for the first time.
As well as playing Bath Rugby and Bristol Bears, the men in Black, Green and Gold will travel to Ealing Trailfinders and welcome both Cambridge and Doncaster Knights to cinch Stadium at Franklin’s Gardens.
And with club rugby now firmly on the horizon again, Coles has his sights set on that first block of matches as he looks to make an impression.
“I played some of my youth rugby at Cambridge so getting to play them is quite fun,” he said. “I’m really excited and I think it’s a nice addition having the Championship sides involved.
“Obviously after the Cup games, it’s back into the Premiership in October, and it’s great for the supporters that most of the Premiership games are outside of the international windows so we get to see everyone there for the big matches, that we maybe haven’t had in the last few years.
“It’s a long way off but we’re very excited.”