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Dowson welcomes tough selection calls as World Cup stars return

Northampton Saints director of rugby Phil Dowson admitted he had some tough selection calls to make this week, with the Club’s Rugby World Cup stars returning to the squad.

Lewis Ludlam made his playing return in last weekend’s win against Bath, while Courtney Lawes, Alex Mitchell and Sam Matavesi all returned to training ahead of Sunday’s visit of Exeter Chiefs to cinch Stadium at Franklin’s Gardens (kick-off: 3pm).

With the men in Black, Green and Gold winning their last two games, the coaching team had some big calls to make entering the eagerly-anticipated Gallagher Premiership Round 5 clash. 

Q: How has it been to have all of your World Cup players back with the squad?
PD: It’s fantastic to have those boys back, and I’m sure there are DORs around the country saying the same thing. To have your top-quality internationals back in the fold and training and involved is a big boost, so we are very excited to have those players back.

Q: Has their return presented you with some selection headaches?
PD: That’s where you want to be. You want to be really competitive and there are also a lot of games back-to-back, so you’ve got to be able to rotate guys as well. Having that quality and hunger throughout the squad is really positive.

Q: Alex Mitchell is back in training this week, but how impressed have you been with Tom James at scrum-half so far this season?
PD: I think he has been fantastic and, to be honest, he has been over the last few seasons. Every time he’s been called upon, he has stepped up. 

’’He has got a wand of a left foot, and I think he manages the game and just keeps getting better and better. He created a try for Alex Coles last week just through his physical ability so I’m really pleased with TJ.’’

Phil Dowson, Northampton Saints director of rugby

Q: What is the situation like at loosehead prop after Ethan Waller was substituted shortly after coming on against Bath?
PD: Ethan isn’t too bad, he had a bit of a stinger on his shoulder so he is okay. Tarek [Haffar] is also back training which is a positive and Alex Waller is all good and had a great game last weekend.

Q: What is your assessment of the start to the season Exeter Chiefs have made?
PD: They are doing very well so far this season. Rob Baxter is a fantastic coach and he has got them on the front foot in most aspects of the game. They have got a young group, but also some stalwarts in there with likes of Jacques Vermeulen and Henry Slade. But he has also brought guys through like [Tom] Cairns at nine who is a handful and [Ethan] Roots in the back row. They look really powerful, really strong, and they have won three out of the four games so far this season.

Ehren Painter has done very well since going there. His scrummaging has always been his best asset, but you also see him being used in the pick-and-go game, where he has picked up a couple of scores over the last few weeks, so it’s been a great move for him personally.

Q: Can you give us your thoughts on James Grayson after his departure was confirmed on Friday?
PD: James approached us with the opportunity to go and play somewhere else. He was frustrated at the lack of minutes and we have got lots of talent in that space. The first thing you say about Jimmy is that he has always been ‘Saints first’. He has been a brilliant Saintsman off and on the pitch, and I think for him to achieve some of the thing he wants to achieve and to explore different opportunities is the right thing for him. So we came to an agreement with Jimmy so that he can go and try and take advantage of them opportunities. I have no doubt that he is very passionate about Saints and he spoke very passionately to the group and staff around what it means to be a Saintsman for him. We wish him absolutely all the best.

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