Northampton Saints had to fight off a Newcastle Falcons comeback in the final pool round of the Premiership Rugby Cup after surging to an early 21-point lead, but coach Matt Ferguson was optimistic about the men in Black, Green and Gold’s performance as they held out to all but confirm their semi-final spot with a 31-28 win.
Geordie Irvine, Brandon Nansen and Courtnall Skosan all crossed the whitewash within the first 20 minutes at Kingston Park to put Saints 21-0 up, but their hosts hit back with three scores of their own before the break and sent the match into the interval level pegging.
And while Robbie Smith’s second half try, along with a Joel Matavesi penalty, put Saints 31-21 ahead, the visitors had to show real composure to hold on for the win after Falcons added a fourth try to their tally with just ten minutes to play.
For Ferguson, that was the most pleasing part of Saints’ performance in Newcastle, with the coach praising Northampton’s resilience in closing the game out to take home maximum points.
“If I’m honest, on initial reflection, that was my favourite PRC game so far this season,” Ferguson said. “And that’s because it was actually a true game of rugby. We’ve talked previously about the 40 or 50-point games, where we’ve sort of run away with it and played some great running rugby back at the Gardens.
“But for me, coming up here to a really good Falcons team and putting together a proper game of rugby, was really pleasing.”Matt Ferguson
“Of course, as always, there’s some things that we want to improve and stuff that we can do better but I think that will be the ultimate take away from this.
“As much as we enjoy seeing ten or 12-try thrillers in this competition when games are decided before half-time, actually there’s a huge amount of learning that comes from these games for the lads.
“And to play in a game where there’s only three points in it with ten minutes to go and having to be composed enough to close that out, there’s some really invaluable lessons in that. Especially for the younger lads within this group going forwards.”
Saints have seen several players make the most of their Premiership Rugby Cup minutes this season, putting their hat firmly in the selection ring for Northampton’s coaches while also keeping the side in the hunt for silverware.
On Saturday, Matavesi kept a 100 per cent record from the tee and Irvine, Nansen and Smith all scored their first points in Saints colours – while Northampton youngsters Ethan Grayson and Kayde Sylvester were amongst those Senior Academy players to make their mark.
He said: “We spoke as coaches at dinner the night before the match about the people that we thought might come good and I said then that it could be a double Aussie day.
“Coming up here to play a team like Newcastle, it’s always a physical game, there’s always a lot of Northern grit to it. And that’s the kind of game that would massively suit Angus, that’s what Angus is about.
“And then you have Rambo, as a big man who’s quick on a surface like this, and really astute under the high ball too. I thought it might be a game for the pair of them to do well and I thought they had two outstanding performances.”
Results elsewhere will decide Northampton’s remaining Cup fate but five points from Saturday’s bonus point win propelled Saints up to the top of Pool 3 and has all but secured them a spot in the competition’s semi-finals.
It would mark Saints’ first foray into the knock-out stages of this competition since they lifted the trophy on home soil back in 2019, but the prospect is one Ferguson and the squad are relishing.
“We just have to wait now to see if there’s a semi-final to come and where that might be,” Ferguson added.
“But we talk every week about how if we perform, we can get results. We performed for long enough in this game to get the result and we’re all buzzing about the prospect of a semi-final.”