Northampton Saints coaches Phil Dowson and Sam Vesty will move into senior management roles at the end of the 2021/22 Gallagher Premiership season following confirmation that Director of Rugby, Chris Boyd, will return to New Zealand and take up a new advisory role with the Club.
Dowson, who enjoyed a six-year playing career at cinch Stadium at Franklin’s Gardens prior to his transition into coaching, will be appointed Director of Rugby having coached Saints’ forwards since the 2018/19 season.
Meanwhile Vesty, who joined at the start of Boyd’s tenure to run Saints’ attack, will become the Club’s Head Coach.
The change forms part of a long-term succession plan set up when Boyd first arrived in Northampton, which aimed to develop a coaching team capable of assuming overall responsibility of the Club’s playing department.
In his new advisory role, Boyd will work remotely from New Zealand but will also visit Northampton during the season, aiming to provide strategic counsel to a coaching group which will be led by Dowson.
Ian Vass and Matt Ferguson will continue in their coaching roles, responsible for Saints’ defence and scrum respectively. Meanwhile former lock James Craig – who made 73 appearances in Black, Green and Gold prior to his retirement from playing in 2019 – also transitions from the Club’s Academy programme into a new first-team coaching position, initially focused on looking after Saints’ line-out.
“I have absolutely loved my time in Northampton, but it’s time to return home,” said Boyd.
“Since our arrival in 2018, Linda and I have fallen in love with the Club, the supporters and the county – Saints will always have a special place in our hearts.”Chris Boyd
“But the pull of family is too great to stay in Northampton beyond the end of this season. And while the thought of being closer to our children and grandchildren is hugely exciting, it is with heavy hearts that we leave the Club.
“Phil and Sam are very talented coaches and thoroughly deserve their forthcoming appointments. Over the last three years, they have proved they have what it takes to lead a successful rugby club at this level; I have no doubt they are ready to make the step up.
“They will be well supported by Ian, Matt and James, who all have bright futures ahead of them as coaches, and I will obviously still be contributing in my new role too.
“Although I’ll be sad to leave, my job this season is far from finished. I can promise our supporters that we are all more determined than ever to help the Club achieve its potential for the remainder of the season.”
Boyd joined Saints from Super Rugby’s Hurricanes ahead of the 2018/19 season. The Kiwi coach won the Premiership Rugby Cup – Northampton’s first silverware for five years – and finished fourth in the Gallagher Premiership in his first season, but Saints were defeated in their semi-final clash.
The men in Black, Green and Gold then reached the quarter-finals of the Heineken Champions Cup under Boyd the following season, going down to eventual champions Exeter Chiefs, before ending the 2020/21 Premiership campaign one place outside of the play-offs in fifth.
Boyd’s tenure at cinch Stadium at Franklin’s Gardens has also seen a new generation of Saints make the transition from the Club’s Academy to senior rugby. An impressive 25 Academy players have made their debuts under Boyd, with Northampton’s senior squad now boasting an average age of just 24 with 67% (39/58) of players home-grown.
Ten Academy graduates have received their first international call-ups with Boyd at the helm, with Lewis Ludlam, George Furbank, Alex Mitchell and Rory Hutchinson all making their debuts at Test level.
“We completely understand Chris’ reasons for deciding to go back to New Zealand – family must always come first,” said Mark Darbon, Chief Executive at Northampton Saints.
“However, we always knew this time would come and have planned and rehearsed accordingly. For instance, earlier this summer when Chris took an extended break in New Zealand, Phil and Sam took sole charge of pre-season.
“From the moment we first spoke to Chris about joining Northampton Saints, we worked with him to build a high-potential group of coaches. Over the past three years, that group have developed and grown, and we are excited for what they can achieve together.”Mark Darbon, Northampton Saints Chief Executive
“While we will miss having Chris around the Gardens, we are very pleased that he will maintain a relationship with the Club in an advisory role, supporting the further development of our coaching group and helping us monitor the global player market.
“I would like to take this opportunity to thank both Chris and Linda for everything they have done for Saints so far. It has been a pleasure working with Chris in his current role, and I have no doubt that the Club will continue to benefit from his contributions moving forwards.”
Saints Chairman John White added: “It’s been fantastic to work with Chris over the past four years; he transitions into his new role with the Club in great shape for the future, and I am very grateful for his efforts to date. We look forward to what will hopefully be a successful second half of this season, before Phil and Sam step into their new roles to take the Club forward.”
Phil Dowson made 186 appearances in Black, Green and Gold as a player in just six seasons at the Club, helping Saints claim the Premiership and European Challenge Cup titles in 2014, the Anglo-Welsh Cup in 2010, and reach the Heineken Champions Cup final in 2011. He returned to cinch Stadium at Franklin’s Gardens as an assistant coach in 2017, before becoming forwards coach a year later upon Boyd’s arrival at the Club.
His 262 appearances in the Premiership is the third-highest tally in the competition’s history, and more than any active player, while Dowson was also capped seven times by England.
The 40-year-old said: “I am extremely proud and humbled to be stepping into the Director of Rugby role at Northampton Saints, a Club I have loved from the moment I first ran onto the pitch at Franklin’s Gardens 12 years ago.
“There is still plenty of growth left in this group of players and, alongside Sam and the entire coaching department, we will work tirelessly to deliver silverware for the Club and our supporters – whose passion and commitment to the team is second to none.
“On a personal note, I would like to thank Chris for everything he has done for me as a coach; I have learnt an enormous amount from him, and I will always be grateful for the opportunities he has given me. It is of course sad to see him return to New Zealand, but I’m delighted we will be able to continue to work together within this new coaching structure.”