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Dowson: Saints must improve but fightback showed a lot of heart

Director of Rugby Phil Dowson believes Northampton Saints’ second-half comeback against Sale Sharks showed plenty of ‘courage and heart’, but insisted his side needs to make improvements ahead of next weekend’s clash against London Irish.

The men in Black, Green and Gold rescued a losing bonus point after a 29-22 reverse at the Salford Stadium, scoring 19 points in the final 15 minutes to ensure they did not return home empty handed.

Sharks surged clear after the interval thanks to tries from Luke James, Sam James and Tom O’Flaherty, but a double from Tom Collins in the closing stages and an Ollie Sleightholme effort reduced the gap to a single score.

Northampton had created plenty of opportunities to pull ahead in an initially tight contest, and Dowson admitted that a lack of ruthlessness inside the 22 before half-time was what probably cost his side an opening day win.

“At 29-3 down, this game looked pretty ugly,” he said. “But from that point on, we stuck to our guns, the bench came on and made an impact (which is always important), and we took a point home from it which speaks volumes about the courage and heart of the group of players.

“We did give Sale an opportunity and they took it, and that gave us a bit of a mountain to climb at the end of the game.

“There were a couple of things we obviously need to be better at; pressure tells, and we put ourselves under pressure in terms of possession, discipline and territory.

“In the first half we actually created lots of chances, getting up to the five-metre line on a couple of occasions, but didn’t convert – and that was the fundamental difference.”

Phil Dowson, Director of Rugby

“When they had that opportunity in our 22, they took it, while we didn’t take ours in the first half, which would have put them under a different type of scoreboard pressure.

“We were poor at times, giving them those chances, but I really admire our heart in coming back towards the end. We just left it a little bit too late.

“We feel we’ve got a game plan that can hurt anyone, but we didn’t execute it as well as we could have done. It’s not all going to be smooth sailing so we need to work out where we can be better before we go and get London Irish [next Saturday].”

Northampton fielded four debutants in Sale on Sunday, with Australian duo Lukhan Salakaia-Loto and Angus Scott-Young starting for the visitors before Alfie Petch and Sam Graham came off the bench.

Dowson’s side now face a six-day gap before they welcome London Irish to cinch Stadium at Franklin’s Gardens for the first league encounter of the new season on home soil.

The Director of Rugby added: “Lukhan and Angus were both abrasive; that’s why we wanted them here, and they’ve displayed it in the past playing for the Reds in Australia and internationally in Lukhan’s case.

“All four of the new guys have adapted brilliantly into our environment, and I’m just disappointed that we couldn’t get them off to a winning start.”

Phil Dowson, Director of Rugby

“We’ve got some great selection questions ahead of next week with a few guys hopefully coming back in from injury.

“The path is not always going to be a simple one; I’d love to get that first win [as DoR] next weekend but we’ve got to make sure we take those lessons from today and build towards that game against Irish.”

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