We sat down with Northampton Saints’ Director of Rugby, Phil Dowson, to reflect on another busy week at cinch Stadium at Franklin’s Gardens and look ahead to a crucial clash at Newcastle Falcons on Friday evening…
Q: There was some frustration towards the performance after last Saturday’s win over Saracens, what are your reflections on the game now?
PD: We’re frustrated again, in terms of our consistency and dropping off a little bit towards the end against 14 men – but if you’d offered us five points at the start of the day, we’d have taken that, with the win. We just have to be better, and we’re always pushing to do that, but we shouldn’t underestimate or undermine some of the positive parts of our performance.
Q: How good was it to have Courtney Lawes available again, in what has been an injury-plagued season for him?
PD: Courtney has obviously struggled and he’s been frustrated himself to not play as much as he’d have liked to, so it was great to see Courtney and the fact he could play so well having dropped straight back in is testament to the quality that he has.
Q: You were able to name a strong team last weekend, what is the shape of the squad after that game?
PD: We’ve got a few people carrying a few dings, but it’s a shortish week, so we’ve got to make sure we’re ready to go. It’ll be more or less the same group [for Newcastle]. James Ramm has got a very sore shoulder. He’s playing brilliantly and it was a shame to see him go off, but hopefully we can get him back as soon as possible.
Q: Beating Saracens means Saints are still in the hunt for a place in the semi-finals of the Gallagher Premiership…
PD: It means that we get to go right to the end of the season and the only thing we can control now is the Newcastle game, our performance in it anyway. We can train well, which we have this week, we can make sure we’re in the right mindset to go away from home and get a win, and all we can do now is put our best foot forward on Friday.
Q: The away form this season has been disappointing, do you almost wish you could bottle up the performance the players produced in the victory at Leicester in January?
PD: Yes, and there have been elements of that performance in different games, but we’ve just fallen off it at different times. We’re not the only club that’s struggled with it – the only two sides who have been good away from home really consistently are Saracens and Sale, and they’re the top two. We’ve only won once away from home, but there are loads of sides like that and that’s why the league’s so close, because teams are generally winning at home and not getting away wins.
Q: What do you feel you did at Leicester that you haven’t managed to do in other away games?
PD: It’s just the consistency – we manged the game particularly well there, we took our opportunities when they came and we defended as if our lives depended on it. We did that for 80 minutes. We weren’t perfect by any stretch of the imagination, but we were on point the entire time, we were focused and we need to try and generate some of that mental consistency in what we’re doing.
Q: Is it best to ignore Newcastle’s league position, considering their home record this season?
PD: Yes, they’re very good at home. They’re very emotionally invested in what they’re doing, they’re a tough group, they fight for each other, they’ve got some absolutely outstanding quality and dangerous players, so we’re under no illusions about how good they are and how many good results they’ve had at home.
Q: We’re coming towards the end of your first season as Director of Rugby, how have you found it?
PD: I haven’t really stopped to think about that just yet because I’m just trying to make sure that we’re organised, that we’re getting exactly what we need, messaging-wise, from the coaching group. Emotionally, we’re driven in the right space, so from my point of view I haven’t had a look back yet. As and when it does come to an end, at whatever point that is, then we’ll sit down as a coaching group with a fine toothcomb to work out how we can be better.
Q: How has it been as a learning process?
PD: It’s a learning process every year – when I was playing, when I was coaching and while I’ve been doing this job – so I’m always trying to get better, always making mistakes. Clearly, I will have made mistakes this season, and that’s always going to be the case, so I need to keep trying to lean on people I can trust and make sure I’m doing my best.
Q: Finally, we found out this week Tom Collins will be leaving Saints at the end of the season, after a decade in the first team. Will it be strange to not have him around?
PD: He came through the academy while I was playing and I’ve got such fond memories of TC. I hold him in such high esteem; he’s a proper Saintsman, he’s an unbelievably good player and he felt that he needed to have a new challenge and have a different scene. We wish him all the best because he’s a great man to have in our team, and a great man to have around the place.