Scrum coach Matt Ferguson admitted Northampton Saints were made to rue a slow start in south-west London, as the men in Black, Green and Gold were narrowly edged out 26-25 by Harlequins at Twickenham Stoop.
The visitors were slower out of the blocks than their opponents, conceding a 14-point lead inside the opening ten minutes, but then Saints went to work to score 25 unanswered points and turn the game around.
George Hendy, Mike Haywood and Josh Gillespie were all on the scoresheet for Northampton before half-time, with James Grayson adding two penalties and two conversions – but Saints picked up two yellow cards and Quins rallied in the latter stages to ultimately win by a point, thanks to a Luke Wallace try and Jamie Benson’s nerveless conversion.
Ferguson tipped his cap to the character of the young Saints matchday squad to stay in the fight after falling behind, but insists that despite their tender years, the group needs to find a way to start games on the front foot after also conceding early against London Irish last time out.
“It was a game we should have won – and probably by more than two or three points,” Ferguson said.
“It’s two weeks on the trot now that we’ve allowed teams to get away from us early on. You always look at the last five minutes, but I go back to the first ten or 15 minutes because we had to claw points back from there.”Matt Ferguson, Scrum Coach
“We got back into the game and controlled parts of it from there, but it’s part of the learning for a young group. We got footholds in the game to get scoreboard advantage, but annoyingly we didn’t do enough of that to win.
“With not long left in the game we turned down a shot at goal. We wanted to put that penalty in the corner and drive them over like we did in the first half – we back our maul, which was going really well, and we want to be a team that puts the opposition under huge amounts of pressure.
“We’ll look at all the decisions, and that’s the obvious one that comes to mind, but the 14 points we conceded at the start was ultimately a lot more important to the result.
“Ultimately we want to be a Saints team that learns and gets better, and if we do that we are going to be a Saints team that wins a lot more matches than we lose.”
Alex Coles led out Saints for the second match running at Twickenham Stoop, after captaining the men in Black, Green and Gold for the first time in his career the week beforehand.
Ferguson believes the 22-year-old lock caught the eye again in south-west London, and is tipping Coles to be one of Northampton’s key leadership figures in the long term.
He said: “Alex absolutely looks like a natural leader out there. He’s a lineout general for us so he’s used to talking to the group, he’s used to leading the calling process week in, week out.
“If you’re the one alongside the likes of Dan Biggar and Alex Mitchell who are making the calls on where the ball is going to go from the lineout, as Colesy is, you have to be a natural leader.”Matt Ferguson, Scrum Coach
“I think he’s been outstanding stepping into this captaincy role; he’s very bright and across this group he’s hugely respected, so he’s certainly a potential full-time captain in future.”
Next weekend sees a return to Gallagher Premiership actions for Saints, as the side travels to the West Country to face Bristol Bears, and preparations are already in full swing for Saints’ coaching group for what will be an important league clash.
Ferguson added: “We talked about this Premiership Rugby Cup block giving our senior guys a bit of a break, but the coaches have already started looking ahead to that Bristol match.
“We’ll be straight into it on Monday morning, and some of our internationals will come back into the squad for what potentially will be a huge game down at Ashton Gate, which we’re looking forward to.”