We sat down with Northampton Saints’ Director of Rugby, Phil Dowson, ahead of this weekend’s home Premiership Rugby Cup clash against Bath Rugby.
With George Furbank set to play his 100th game for the men in Black, Green and Gold this weekend, and Alex Moon reaching his own century of appearances last weekend, Dowson tipped his cap to the Academy set-up at cinch Stadium at Franklin’s Gardens and the track record the Club has to bring young talent through into the first team...
Q: It’s George Furbank’s 100th game for the Club this weekend, can you give us your reflections of the journey he’s been on so far to get to this milestone?
PD: It was Alex Moon’s 100th last weekend and Furbank’s this weekend, which is really special because it illustrates how they have both come through the Academy system here in Northampton. They are playing for their local Club and they’re playing with lads that they’ve spent a lot of time with – so for cohesion within the squad, that’s really good, and it says a lot about how the investment in the Academy is paying off.
Furbank as an individual just keeps getting better and better, and I think this season particularly he has come in with a different mindset, in terms of really trying to push himself and everyone around him. I’ve been nothing but impressed with him. He always had a really high skill level, he’s always been able to read the game, and his application in all areas across the Club has been really strong. He’s a good leader and both his journey and his attitude speak volumes about him as a person.
Q: Furbank was one of those players that started in the Wanderers and Premiership Rugby Cup, and then really kicked on into the Premiership team. Do you see others with similar potential?
PD: He got his opportunities, and he took them well. You look around at some of the guys who have played in recent weeks – like George Hendy, Henry Pollock, Archie McParland and Reuben Logan – they’re all trying to follow in Furbank’s footsteps, that’s the whole point of the Academy pathway. The pathway is the Club’s foundation; we have the highest percentage of Academy players playing in the first team in the Gallagher Premiership. These are the guys we want to have, keep at the Club, and build the team around.
Q: How good is it to have Emmanuel Iyogun back from injury, and how has he dealt with his time out injured?
PD: He’s got a great attitude. He is a brilliant bloke and he is another one of those guys that’s come though the Academy system. I think it’s tougher potentially in the front row because you have to earn your stripes and you’ll learn some tough lessons. We threw him in the deep end down at Exeter a couple of years ago, where he earned his stripes and became a bit of a legend within the senior group. From there on, he’s got bigger and better every year.
Obviously having nine months out with an Achilles injury is tough, but the way he has applied himself to get into the sort of shape that he is in now, has meant that those nine months weren’t wasted. It wasn’t spent dwelling on the past; he spent it working on how he can get better, and that growth mindset is incredibly positive. We are all impressed in how applied himself in those nine months, and I thought he played brilliantly last weekend on his return.
Q: With Bath Rugby coming up this weekend, how are you feeling preparations are going for the upcoming Gallagher Premiership season?
PD: I’m feeling pretty good. As disappointing as it was to lose last weekend in the last minute, there was so much good stuff in there that we have been drilling on the training field. So, we just need to kick on and apply that for longer periods of time in games – and I’ve got no doubt we’ll do that this weekend, because it’ll be the second game of the season for a lot of the boys, and therefore those guys will be better.
People who play the game will know the first game of a new season, its takes time to get your lungs back, and to get your mind set. It’s all part of the process to get ready for the start of the Premiership campaign.