We sat down with Northampton Saints scrum coach Matt Ferguson ahead of the opening round of the Premiership Rugby Cup against London Irish this weekend…
Q: Now we’ve come to the end of the first wave of Gallagher Premiership fixtures, what are your reflections?
MF: We’re really disappointed in the performances of the last two weeks. It’s important that the last two weeks have been poor performances, as well as poor results. I always say that if we get our game out on the pitch, then we’ll be able to challenge anyone. We’ve won more games than we’ve lost, but the real lingering taste of the last two weeks was the performance was not good enough, and if you don’t perform well enough, you’re not going to get results.
I thought we got off to a really good start, especially going over to Exeter and getting that result down there. We’re just really frustrated and disappointed, as the players are as well, that we let that slip in the last two weeks by not putting our game on the pitch.
Q: What do you feel went wrong in the past two weeks, specifically?
MF: It’s been well documented, with internationals away and a number of injuries, that we’re a little bit bare in the cupboard in certain areas. But I think both in the Tigers game and the Sale game, there were periods where we were one score away. What happens next either ends up being a three-point game that can go either way or it ends up being that you’re ten points down and you’re chasing, and we probably haven’t managed those two tipping points of both of those games. If we get the next bit right – if we control the next ten minutes – the game would pan out in a completely different way. We’ve lost that, and then what’s happened is the score has got away from us in both of those games.
Preparation equals performance, and when we’ve not performed, the first thing we do, as coaches, is look at how we prepared the team because, more often than not, that’s where it starts from.
Q: Has this break from league action come at a good time, with lads away on international duty and a few others injured?
MF: It’s come at a good time because it gives people the opportunity to play, who previously haven’t. Our best preparation comes from our ‘Sinners,’ which is our non-playing group preparing our ‘Saints’ to play. We’ve had some really excellent Thursday afternoon sessions, where our Sinners are really going at our Saints. More often than not, I can go back to some key victories during my time here, and I can go ‘that Saturday was a good result’ and the first thing I think about is how good our Sinners have been in preparing our team. A lot of those guys go about their work week in, week out and they don’t always get their chance in the limelight.
We look at this week and we’re probably going to be giving several players debuts, so now it’s their chance to shine. They’ll bring their enthusiasm and this week will be as important for them as a Premiership game will be for the more senior players, and that’s why I get excited by it. There’s no change in motivation – we had a group that were picked to go to Sale that were very motivated and we’ve picked a different group this week. It’s going to be the first chance for some of them, and a chance for others that haven’t been able to start, and they are all excited by that opportunity.
Q: Should we expect a fairly youthful line-up on Saturday against London Irish then?
MF: This is where the Bedford link comes into its own; these boys have played some Championship rugby in the last few weeks to prepare them. I think there will be a group that will be pretty nervous to pull the shirt on for the first time, but then you think that someone like Manny Iyogun is 20 years old, and we’re talking about him as being a senior player! It’s a cliché to say it will be a balance of youth and experience, but our experience can come from some of our 20 to 22-year-olds.
Q: With no Wanderers matches, how important has the partnership with Bedford Blues been?
MF: It’s actually better, in my opinion. I’m a big fan of the Championship – I worked in it myself. The standards in the Championship are very high. You look at the Ealing team that played at Bedford last weekend, they’re a fully professional team, with many players we recognise from gracing the Gardens for us – people like Reuben Bird-Tulloch for example, or Will Davis, have been Saintsmen. The level of rugby in the Championship is higher than the Wanderers games, where you found that some teams get a load of guests from local rugby clubs. Saints have always taken the Wandies games seriously, and that’s why I think they’ve been successful over a period of time. But if you’ve got some of our players in the front five playing Championship rugby – people like Ed Prowse, Manny Iyogun, Reece Marshall and Brandon Nansen – it’s the best preparation.
There’s nobody coming into Saturday cold, whereas in previous years, that’s what’s happened; a player has been dropped in because it’s his chance to show what he can do. Every single player we’ve selected for this weekend we’ve seen before in training or in games for other clubs. Now, it’s their chance to perform in a Saints shirt.
Q: Is the aim for the next couple of weeks to unearth any players who could make an impact in Gallagher Premiership matches towards the end of the season?
MF: The key for Saturday is to allow those playing to showcase their ability, and if they do that, then one thing that Chris Boyd has proven throughout his whole time here is that they’ll get a shot. The senior coaches are coaching this team, we’ve set this week up to be a Premiership week, in terms of the amount of training, analysis and preparation we’re doing, to give those players the best chance of showcasing their skills. That’s really important and it will be a really exciting day.