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Dowson: Saints will learn from ‘harsh lessons’ with long season ahead

Phil Dowson believes important lessons are being learned during the Premiership Rugby Cup campaign that will serve Northampton Saints well with a long season ahead of them.

The men in Black, Green and Gold bagged themselves a try-scoring bonus point by half-time at Ashton Gate, and crossed the line twice more in the second period.

But it wasn’t enough to see off Bristol Bears, who snatched a 39-38 victory with a last-minute try that means Saints’ progression in the tournament is now out of their own hands with just two pool stage matches left at cinch Stadium at Franklin’s Gardens against Bath Rugby and Doncaster Knights.

“At this stage of the season, lessons are the most important thing,” said Director of Rugby Dowson. “Because we’re not going to get judged at the end of the season by our Premiership Rugby Cup results.

“We clearly want to win the tournament. We’d clearly love a semi-final, we’d love to be at home. Clearly that’s a tall order now but we’ve got to make sure we’ve got our systems in place and we learn those harsh lessons today as opposed to in November or December in the Gallagher Premiership.”

Having bagged eight tries a week previously in the 55-5 win against Cambridge, Saints continued their fine scoring form, crossing the line six times with Tommy Freeman helping himself to a brace and Tom Seabrook, George Hendy, James Ramm and Toby Thame getting on the scoresheet.

However, Bears refused to go away and grabbed their decisive fifth try at the death through Gabriel Ibitoye.

While unhappy about conceding 39 points and suffering a defeat on the road, Dowson took plenty of positives from the performance.

“It’s really frustrating and it’s going to pain people to hear it, but there was actually loads of really good stuff in there,” Dowson added. “What’s most pleasing is that a lot of the stuff we’ve been working on in pre-season is really obvious.

“Clearly, to concede 39 points away from home is not good enough and harks back to last year a little bit.

“But from my point of view, some of the things we’ve asked the players to focus on we saw really good examples of. Clearly not necessarily for long enough but bearing in mind this is the first 40 minutes for a lot of people like [Fraser] Dingwall, Ramm, [George] Furbank and Fin [Smith]. I thought a lot of that was really, really positive.

“There’s loads to work on but at the same time, a lot of evidence of the things that we’ve focused on.”

Phil Dowson, Director of Rugby

Robbie Smith, Tom James, Juarno Augustus and Trevor Davison also played their first minutes of the 2023/24 season, as did Alex Moon ­on the occasion of his 100th Saints appearance.

“The way that we’ve managed it the last couple of weeks is that nobody in their first outing plays 80 minutes,” said Dowson. “Moony probably played the longest on his 100th game and was very, very good. We didn’t want him to necessarily go 80 minutes.

“We will hopefully give them more time in the next couple of weeks to make sure they’re as fit as they possibly can be for the start of the Premiership season.”

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