Director of Rugby Phil Dowson praised his young stars who helped Northampton Saints fight back against a star-studded Barbarians side in the high-scoring exhibition match defeat.
The men in Black, Green and Gold conceded five unanswered first-half tries in the cinch Stadium at Franklin’s Gardens encounter but rallied after the break with George Hendy and Toby Thame both crossing the line.
However, those scores were mixed in with three more tries from the visitors who were packed with Wallaby stars including 25-times capped Tom Wright who helped himself to a brace in the Barbarians’ 48-12 win.
“We had a lot of opportunities in the first half and we didn’t convert any,” said Dowson. “Every single turnover went the other way. We weren’t quick enough on transition. I am a bit disappointed with the first half because we conceded so many and a lot of that came from turnovers. Our skill execution wasn’t where you’d expect it to be.
“In the second half I thought we were a lot better with some of the young guys coming in. What you’ve got to bear in mind with the young guys playing, some of them haven’t even played in the Championship yet, and they’re playing against guys who were disappointed not to be in the World Cup.
“It was obviously a big challenge for the lads and I thought a lot of them stood up. You find out a lot about people when we’re under pressure and we were under pressure a lot today.”Phil Dowson
“Clearly there were things in our setpiece, in our defence and our attack which weren’t where we’d want them to be but a lot of it was very good and we showed a bit heart to come back.”
Among the young Saints who caught the eye was Jake Garside, who celebrated turning 21 a day prior to the game and left the field in the second half after a barnstorming display to an approving Church’s Stand – many of whom rose to their feet in applause.
His performance also drew praise from Dowson who likened his talents to a notable former Saints scrum-half who was capable of shining on the wing like Garside did on Saturday afternoon.
“He was outstanding today, he’s incredibly tenacious, he’s aggressive, he’s absolutely rapid,” added Dowson. “We are looking at him like someone like Cobus [Reinach] who can play at both nine and on the wing. He had a great season last year coming off the bench for Bedford. We wanted to give him an opportunity to start on the wing to show what he is capable of and he can definitely do a job there.
“He's desperate to succeed, desperate to get better and he’s got a real edge to him. He’s not the biggest of men but he is desperate to get involved. He hits and gets stuck in and he chases back and you can’t defend speed.”Phil Dowson
Saints added more senior players to their line-up from the previous weekend’s 33-24 loss to Bedford Blues as attentions now turn to the Premiership Rugby Cup (PRC) and a trip to Ealing Trailfinders on Sunday, 10 September.
Dowson confirmed that it will be a case of more established players being ‘drip fed’ as the five rounds of cup competition – including home matches against Cambridge (16 September), Bath (30 September) and Doncaster Knights (7 October) – building up to the Gallagher Premiership opening round trip to Sale Sharks on 15 October.
He said: “We’ve got 17 games on the bounce with Europe and the Premiership. We want to manage who we have playing and in the PRC it’s a great opportunity for these guys to play week-in, week-out, for the Saints and show what they’re capable of.
“From my point of view, in terms of the importance of it, [the PRC] is for those players to wear a Saints shirt, to represent the club and to show what they’ve been doing in training. To show what they’ve been working on as an individual and put into a game, do it under pressure and do it all over the country, whether it’s at Ealing, Bristol or wherever.
“They need to show us and earn that trust and make sure they put their name down for when the Premiership starts.”