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Phil Dowson is Director of Rugby at Northampton Saints
Claire Jones / RedHatPhoto.com
Phil Dowson is Director of Rugby at Northampton Saints
Claire Jones / RedHatPhoto.com

Dowson demands improvement ahead of final Premiership clash

Despite his side recording a vital 38-29 victory over Gallagher Premiership leaders Saracens, Northampton Saints director of rugby Phil Dowson admitted he was not satisfied with their performance.

The men in Black, Green and Gold went into the clash with seven consecutive Gallagher Premiership home victories to their name, and the odds were tipped even more in their favour after nine minutes when Saracens centre Duncan Taylor was shown a red card for a dangerous tackle on Fin Smith.

While a few chances initially went begging, Alex Moon, Lewis Ludlam and Tommy Freeman all crossed before half-time – before Rory Hutchinson, Smith and Fraser Dingwall all added to the try tally in a strong middle portion of the game.

Saints moved back up to fourth in the race for the Premiership semi-finals, but a slow start and a sloppy final 20 minutes – where Saracens mounted a late fightback – left Dowson frustrated.

Dowson said: “Because we didn’t convert some of that pressure [in the first 20 minutes], I feel we then tried to chase it and then in the 20 minutes before half-time we were maybe forcing it a little bit, trying to score from every phase.

“I thought the third quarter was good as we played our system, we created opportunities, we converted them and we played well.”

Phil Dowson, Director of Rugby

“The last 20 minutes I thought we dropped off considerably and let them back into it.

“Fair play to Saracens but I think we have to look at that last 20 minutes and work out what’s going on.”

Dowson was much happier, however, with the performance of Courtney Lawes, who made just his fifth appearance of the season and his first since the home loss against Stade Rochelais in January.

A succession of injuries has severely limited the impact Lawes has been able to make during the campaign, but the Saints stalwart’s composed display from the back row proved to Dowson the 34-year-old continues to get better with age.

He said: “He’s always worked hard to improve, so the gradual increments, not just as a ball carrier – he can move the ball and off-load, which makes him a dual threat because if he just carries the ball, people are just going to sit down on you, and you’ll get two-man shots a lot.

He said: “His decision-making around the defence, tackle height, when to go into the breakdown and when not, his set-piece stuff, he’s always looking to improve.

“It is unusual in the fact that most guys go from six to second row as they get older and he’s actually getting more athletic as he gets older, and he’s moving back into the back row a lot.

“It speaks volumes about the quality of his game in that, defensively and in attack, he can do things other people can’t do.

“Then you add the leadership, then you add the experience and he is world class.”

The mixed performance aside, victory against Sarries was paramount for Saints to realistically keep alive their hopes of qualifying for the semi-finals for the second season running.

They now face a short turnaround ahead of their final regular-season fixture at Newcastle Falcons on Friday night, when a second away win of the season will again be non-negotiable.

Dowson added: “It’s the next game in what has been kind of a weird season – we’ve gone from two weeks off to a short turnaround.

“We know how good the Falcons have been at home, we saw them play Gloucester, and their record at home is pretty strong.

"They’ve always been there or thereabouts and they’ve turned over some big sides.

“So, that’s the big challenge for us and we’ve got to make sure we get our energy right in a short week, we need to address some of those issues we found today and make sure we give the best performance we possibly can to stay in the hunt.”

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