Northampton Saints director of rugby Phil Dowson refused to blame injuries for his side’s Gallagher Premiership defeat to Bristol Bears.
Saints were already without the likes of George Furbank, Fraser Dingwall, Emmanuel Iyogun and Juarno Augustus entering the cinch Stadium at Franklin’s Gardens encounter when George Hendy was withdrawn from the starting team during the warm up.
The backs division was further hit in the second half as James Ramm and Tommy Freeman failed to go the distance after picking up knocks, while No.8 and skipper Sam Graham was also withdrawn late on, as Bristol came from behind to claim a 33-27 victory.
“Injuries are always disruptive to every side,” said Dowson. “In rugby there are going to be lots of injuries. We tried to adapt on Saturday. We tried to train to try and cover some of those, so of course they’re disruptive but we put out a very capable squad and a very capable group of players to deal with that.”
Despite a flying start to both halves, we were left with just a pair of bonus-points from a frustrating afternoon.— Northampton Saints 😇 (@SaintsRugby) October 21, 2023
Saints started strongly with Tom Seabrook continuing his Premiership Rugby Cup form, with a brace that takes him to six tries in as many appearances since his summer switch from Gloucester.
Tom Pearson’s score and two Fin Smith conversions had put Saints into an 11-point lead, but that was reduced to just one by the interval as Magnus Bradbury grabbed his second try in addition to Callum Sheedy’s third successful kick of the afternoon.
“I thought for the first 38 minutes of the game we looked very good, looked strong,” said Dowson. “It was 19-11 just before half-time. We conceded a score which changed the whole complexion of that first half.
“It gave them a lot of energy and in the second half, we never really got into our stride. Particularly, we gave a lot of penalties away. The yellow card (Sam Graham) didn’t help either and Bristol came back into the game.
“I don’t think there’s any sort of lack of effort, we acknowledged that and tried to push on in the second half but we just couldn’t generate that momentum back and it took us too long.”Phil Dowson
“The last five minutes we had an opportunity but we’re leaving it late, same as last week.”
Tommy Freeman’s bonus-point sealing try got the second half off to a flying start, but Bristol hit back with tries from Max Lahiff and Harry Thacker and five more points from Sheedy’s boot to move nine points ahead. Smith’s late penalty gave hope of Saints securing a match-winning try, but it wasn’t to be as Dowson’s side were left with the consolation of two bonus points from the match.
Saints conceded 15 penalties across the match and Dowson admitted it’s an area that will need to improve heading into the trip to Newcastle Falcons on Sunday 29 October.
He said: “It comes down to two things; you identify it, you train it and you reward it. So I identify where we can do better, train that during the week on the pitch and in the meeting rooms and reward it when we see it done properly.
“The second thing is from a mental point of view, I found in the second half we got a bit stressed.
“That’s when you try too hard, and that’s when you jump out of system and I think we are probably guilty of a little bit of that, trying a bit too hard and trying to solve things as an individual rather than as a team.”