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Dowson relishing Saints’ test against high-flying Saracens

Director of Rugby Phil Dowson believes Northampton Saints will have to produce their most complete performance of the season so far, if they are to topple Saracens this weekend.

The men in Black, Green and Gold travel to StoneX Stadium on Saturday (kick-off: 4.30pm, Live on TNT Sports) having won four of their last five league matches – but have not defeated Sarries on home soil since 2019.

The hosts sit second in the Gallagher Premiership standings and are on a rich run of form of their own, with five consecutive victories to their name in the competition.

Dowson – who made four changes to Saints’ starting line-up for the clash with Sam Graham, Tom James, Fin Smith and Tom Seabrook all coming into the side – is looking forward to seeing how Northampton can match up against another of the league’s front-runners after wins over Bath, Exeter Chiefs, and Harlequins in recent weeks.

“It’s very exciting, a really good opportunity for us to go and test ourselves against the reigning champions, and one of the form sides, packed full of talent,” he said.

“They’re a good side to watch and they have quality all over the pitch, with the freedom to play. They are extremely efficient in the attacking 22, and always seem to come away with points, which is something we’ve got to be better at for sure.

“This week we have to be consistent, we have to make sure that all facets of our game – attack, defence, set piece – are as high-end in terms of performance as we can possibly get.

“If you’re not quite at it against Saracens, you’re going to get found out.”

Phil Dowson, Director of Rugby

“This group is garnering that belief [that we can beat the strongest teams in the league]. We were disappointing at Leicester, but at Sale we sort of banged and were there or thereabouts, then we’ve had some good performances in recent weeks too.

“We’ve shown we can win games in different ways, and I feel like we’re getting more trust and focus on our defence, we’re getting a bit more of our attacking intent on the pitch, and the set piece is slowly but surely improving as well.”

Saints were beaten in the Gallagher Premiership semi-finals on their last visit to StoneX Stadium, losing 38-15 back in May.

The men in Black, Green and Gold started slowly, but fought back after half-time to set-up a tense final quarter, before Saracens added some gloss to the scoreline with a couple of late tries – and Dowson insists his side cannot afford to do the same again.

He added: “The semi-final is one of those that, on the big stage, we maybe didn’t fire enough shots in the first half. And that’s what rankles us.

“We were a bit reticent to really get our game on the field, but at half-time we said, ‘let’s be optimistic, have a look at it, let’s get stuck in’ and we came back into it. We need to be able to do it from the word go and under massive pressure from Sarries.

“This is another huge game, we’re saying that every week at the moment, but we’re sat in sixth and maybe rueing a couple of opportunities we’ve missed in the first seven rounds. There’s only two more games before the halfway point of the season, so we’ve got to make sure we get our performance right.”

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