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Dowson relishing selection conundrums within deep Saints squad

Phil Dowson insists there’s no such thing as a selection ‘headache’ for Northampton Saints’ coaches, as the men in Black, Green and Gold prepare to take on Harlequins on Saturday.

With the new Gallagher Premiership campaign just getting underway, Saints are welcoming several players back from injury layoffs or from international duty, and Forwards Coach Dowson is delighted to see so many faces fighting for a place in the side.

Friday’s clash at Sale Sharks saw Tom Wood, Alex Waller, Nick Auterac and Harry Mallinder all make their competitive returns to the matchday 23, and this week England have released David Ribbans, Lewis Ludlam and Alex Mitchell – meaning the trio are all available to face Quins at Franklin’s Garden (kick-off 2pm).

“You need to drive competition within the squad,” said Dowson. “You need to have guys really working hard for selection and that’s how performances improve from an individual basis.

“The players know that if they don’t perform, someone else will take the shirt. It’s brilliant to have guys the England guys back this week and we’ve got quality dilemmas – it gives us plenty of discussion about what’s the best way to win games.

“Those selection options drive competition and help us get the most from everyone.”

Phil Dowson, Forwards Coach

With just under 500 Saints appearances between them, Dowson admits having Wood and Waller back in the mix for Northampton is a massive boost.

But the 39-year-old – who made 186 appearances for the men in Black, Green and Gold during his playing career – was also particularly heartened to see Mallinder wearing a Saints jersey again, and playing longer than expected after an early injury to fullback George Furbank.

He said: “It’s brilliant to see Woody and Sue [Waller] back in there. Those lads have played hundreds of games; they lead, they’re desperate to win and they’ve been there before in tough situations.

“The younger lads can take heart from them and get experience from those guys in terms of how they are when things are going well and how they are when things aren’t.

“Then Harry played 70 minutes as well and he’s a class act. He’s got such a rounded and unbelievable skill-set that he can change games and bring others in around him.

“He’s not played for a long time so he’ll admit himself he was maybe a little rusty in some of the things he did, but he’ll get better the more he plays.

“He speaks well, and he has a big influence on the backline. So, I’m delighted to have him back in the mixer, he’s a top man and a really good guy to have involved.”