We sat down with Saints centre Fraser Dingwall ahead of Northampton’s Heineken Champions Cup clash against Ulster Rugby this Friday evening…
Q: What has the reaction been amongst the squad following a tough night against Racing 92?
FD: I think we’ve got a pretty positive look on it. We know that we didn’t perform well and they are a very talented and strong team, so you’re going to be punished if you give a team like that so many opportunities and you don’t put your game on the pitch. We’re now feeling fairly refreshed and ready to tear into Ulster on Friday.
Q: Is it a good thing to have another big match like the one against Ulster coming up so soon?
FD: Very much so. The short turnaround helps, to be honest, because it means you’re straight back into it and there’s a new challenge immediately. I think it’s another exciting opportunity – they’re a very strong team, they’ve just beat Clermont away. Hopefully, we can go down there and put in a good performance.
Q: Did it raise a few eyebrows when Ulster beat Clermont-Auvergne away last week?
FD: It is, infamously, a tough place to go and get a win, so for them to do that, they’ve obviously done something right. Hopefully, we can go and challenge them in different ways and, as I said, pick up a result.
Q: It was a really close match against Ulster in the Challenge Cup last season. Are you expecting something similar at the Kingspan Stadium?
FD: I know that their game is largely based around the kick battle and physicality, especially up front in the set-piece. Those are areas we’ll definitely have to focus on and take on, and then we’ll hopefully we’ll bring our touch to it as well. Last season’s match was a frustrating one for us because we felt like we had the upper hand, especially in the first half. In the second half, they managed to get some gains, in terms of the kick battle, and they got on top. Maybe we’ve got a point to prove from that.
Q: You’ve had a good run of games this season so far. How do you feel your form has been?
FD: I’ve been going well. I feel like I’m enjoying my rugby at the moment and I’m trying to get to a point where I’m consistently playing well and, hopefully, I’m creating my standard from now on, where I can say ‘this is my minimum standard’. I can then keep getting better from there.
Q: Do you feel you’re developing your midfield partnerships with the likes of Rory Hutchinson and Matt Proctor?
FD: It’s largely been me or Hutch or me and Matty, and with both of them it’s a slightly different role – I play at 12 with Matty and then 13 with Hutch. I’m enjoying playing both positions and I feel that’s just developing my game as well. I enjoy playing with both of them and I feel that this year, we’re starting to get an even better understanding of what each other are good at.
Q: You’re only 22 but you’ve now got guys even younger than you becoming first-team regulars, like Ollie Sleightholme and Tommy Freeman. Does it feel strange having to pass on your experience?
FD: I still very much view myself as one of the younger guys! We’re still a young squad, but this year we’ve deliberately made a decision to ditch that mindset and go a bit more with ‘it’s about time we became senior players.’
Q: Does that new mind set mean that setbacks like last Friday aren’t just seen as part of the learning process anymore?
FD: Yeah, it isn’t so much of a learning process and more disappointing that we didn’t perform. That’s the reality of rugby; that every week you’ve got to be on it. Against a top team, it’s a shame that we didn’t turn up – everyone was massively excited for that game. You never know why you don’t perform, but for that one we didn’t.
Q: Does it feel as though the pressure will be off when you take to the field in Belfast?
FD: Potentially. We’re not expected to win and they’re really confident after beating Clermont. I think we know we’ve just got to go and give it a really good shot and, if we perform, we can beat anyone we play.
Q: You’ll have only been about 13 years old when it happened, but does this have the same feel as when Saints went to Ulster in 2012, in that the players feel they have a point to prove?
FD: You can get a response from a poor performance into a big challenge the next week, so hopefully we can use the Racing disappointment as a driving force and give it a massive effort.