Forwards coach Phil Dowson was pleased with the way a young Northampton Saints side refused to buckle under pressure in their 35-46 victory over Saracens in the Premiership Rugby Cup.
The lead at the StoneX Stadium changed hands on multiple occasions, with Saints having to fight their way back from behind on three occasions.
Even when Northampton conceded two quick tries to let an 11-point lead turn into a three-point deficit with 15 minutes left, the men in Black, Green and Gold dug their heels in to produce some of their best rugby and ultimately snatch the win.
And for Dowson, the sight of debutant Frankie Sleightholme skating over for the clinching try with two minutes remaining spoke volumes of the spirit Saints showed in what was their first win of the season in the competition.
“We wanted a win, but we also wanted to see how players coped with the different environment,” Dowson said.
“It’s very important for the players who haven’t had many opportunities to wear the Saints shirt to play together.”Phil Dowson
“We got what we wanted because we want to see the guys under pressure, we want to see them play together and we want to see them given an opportunity, and I thought lots and lots of guys performed and put their hand up.
“They showed that they are capable of playing for Saints.”
Dowson was particularly impressed with how a young forward pack performed in North London; at just 18, Geordie Irvine was just one of the youngsters who stood up to be counted, as were two of Saints’ debutants Ed Prowse and George Patten.
With 21-year-old JJ Tonks the oldest member of the back row, Northampton’s pack might have been young in years but Dowson was full of praise for how his forwards stood up to the test.
He added: “Geordie Irvine was excellent and I thought he got better as the game wore on. He’s a threat with ball in hand and he’s working hard on his line-out game with James Craig.
“I thought George Patten, as a 17-year-old coming off the bench and playing probably 40 minutes longer than he might have done with the injury to Ollie Newman, was excellent in terms of his contribution.
“To play at that level, for that period of time, and be so good at it speaks volumes about where he is both physically and mentally.
Dowson added: “Luke Frost hasn’t played for Saints before, he’s been training with us on Tuesdays and Thursdays and I thought that was a good reward for him.
“Ed’s been playing for Bedford all year, showing the benefit of that consistent rugby for someone like him.
“Across the forward pack, there were loads of young guys there who, through our system, have played lots of games at Bedford or played or trained with the England Under-20s and have come in match fit and stood up today.”