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Dowson: Saints squad strong enough to cope in weeks ahead

Director of Rugby Phil Dowson is confident Northampton Saints have the squad depth required to cope with the number of absences caused by suspension and international duty in the weeks ahead.

A 31-13 defeat against Stade Rochelais last Saturday came with an extra cost of two red cards shown to centre Fraser Dingwall and lock Lukhan Salakaia-Loto, which led to Saints finishing the match with 13 men. 

While the length of their bans has yet to be determined, both are set to miss Saturday’s East Midlands derby against Leicester Tigers in the Gallagher Premiership.

Courtney Lawes also went off with a calf injury during the first half at cinch Stadium at Franklin’s Gardens, which has led to David Ribbans additionally now being unavailable for selection as he joins teammates Alex Mitchell, Lewis Ludlam, Fin Smith and Tommy Freeman in England’s training camp ahead of the start of the Six Nations. 

Dowson said: “That’s why we’ve got a big squad; to cover up when there are England internationals away, and also when there are injuries, bans, all those sorts of things.

“We’ll be a little bit light in that area, but I also think we’ve got plenty of quality in that squad.”

Phil Dowson, Director of Rugby

“Courtney has a calf issue. He’s iced it, compressed it and he’s seeing physios. We’ll have to wait and see, post-scan, what that looks like.” 

Saints had some of the wind taken out of their sails by Dingwall’s sending-off for a clash of heads with Dillyn Leyds towards the end of what had been a bright first-half showing against reigning European champions Stade Rochelais. 

The men in Black, Green & Gold trailed 7-3 at half-time before finding the numbers game too much in the second half, although Dowson felt they still could have made things more difficult for their French visitors. 

He said: “When they’re in that position, they convert more often than not and particularly in the second half, when fatigue sets in and you’re down a number, it makes it very difficult, and we weren’t capable of keeping them out for long enough.

“They’re a good side but we’ve got to drive higher standards than what we’re doing.”

Phil Dowson, Director of Rugby

The defeat marked the end of Saints’ continental campaign this season after losing all four of their pool matches in the Heineken Champions Cup. 

The fact that they will not even drop into the European Challenge Cup means Dowson’s men will have a three-week gap between their Gallagher Premiership fixtures against London Irish and Saracens in March and April. 

Reflecting on what was a disappointing set of results in Europe, Dowson said: “There were some fairly frustrating and bitter experiences for both the coaching group and the players. 

“La Rochelle away, we got taught a lesson there. Munster at home I thought we were good enough to win that game, and we didn’t convert a lot of the pressure that we had in the second half – on another day, I think we win that game. 

“In the second half at Munster, I was really pleased with how we reacted to being 24 points down. 

“Again, we’ve got to work out why, at the top end of Europe, we give those opportunities away. So, as we’ve said too often this season, the feeling is of frustration more than anything else, and disappointment.” 

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