Ahead of the return of Premiership Rugby Cup action this weekend, we caught up with Northampton Saints back row Geordie Irvine – one of the men in Black, Green and Gold’s breakout starlets in this year’s competition so far…
Q: You’re still a relatively fresh face for Northampton Saints supporters, what can you tell them about yourself?
GI: I started playing rugby in the Under-6s at my local rugby club, Kesteven – tag rugby, that kind of thing – and stayed with them until Under-13s level when I started going to Oundle School about an hour away from Northampton. I kept playing there and loved it, then I got picked up by Saints Academy when I was 16. At the end of the Under-18s, they said they’d offer me a contract and I bit their arm off for it!
I’m probably more of a wide-channel back row player, especially while I’m still developing physically. I like to operate in a bit of space, I’d say, and in terms of the set-piece I’d probably say I’m stronger in the line-out because I’ve got a bit of height. I’m probably happier in space than I am in tighter regions.
Q: What was it like to try to continue your development, at such a crucial age, during the global pandemic?
GI: During lockdown, it was pretty strange, at first, to get used to. It was like a year away from rugby and by the time it got to us actually playing rugby again, that felt really alien because I’d only really done gym stuff for a year. Saints were really good at getting us to film ourselves doing skills, and rugby-related drills were sent into our group chat, so everyone was pinging ideas off each other. At the same time, there’s only so much you can do to replicate actual rugby. I think our first Academy League game was against Saracens and it was the first game we’d played in about 18 months. It was weird getting back into it, but it’s a lot better than just training for a year!
Q: It’s obviously been a big year for your development, how have you found your first taste of full-time senior rugby at Saints?
GI: Now that I’ve tried it, it’s all I want to do. Every time you get shown another level of how well the game can be played, you naturally just want to play at that level. Playing London Irish here in the Prem Cup earlier in the year, I was only on for seven minutes but it was the hardest rugby I had ever played. Suddenly, that becomes the benchmark and all you want to do is play at that level. I’ve really enjoyed it and I just want more.
Q: That takes us on to your first start at Harlequins, did the pace of that game take some getting used to?
GI: It was a shock, to say the least! I was not expecting that to happen – in fact, I’m pretty sure a back rower had come back to fitness after the Irish game, so I was expecting to, at best, be on the bench. Then they announced that I would be starting and I just didn’t see that coming, but it was then a really enjoyable game. Thankfully, it went pretty well and hopefully I can do the same this weekend.
Q: You’ve also picked up some game time in the Championship, how has that been?
GI: I’ve had one game at Bedford and one at Coventry. The one at Bedford was when we played up at Doncaster and we lost, but it was a really good introduction to Championship rugby and just how physical it is. I trained with them a couple more times and then I went to Coventry, because they needed some back-row cover. I went to play for them against the Army and then had a chance to play for Coventry against Bedford, although I didn’t actually come off the bench for that.
Q: You were one of five Saints players called into the England Under-20s’ Six Nations squad and one of the youngest players in there. How did you find that experience?
GI: It was really good, firstly just to halfway through the season get a change of environment, because it’s good to keep yourself nice and fresh. It was also nice to be surrounded by other people your age, because while it’s really good here having people who are 10-15 years your senior, it’s a nice change to have people around you that are your own age, who are having the same experiences you are having at other clubs. It’s good to learn off them as well.
Q: Did it help having a few mates from Saints there as well?
GI: That included my housemate, Tom Lockett, who has started in every game for them so far. It was really nice to have that core group of people then, obviously, as you get to know everyone, they are such a nice group.
Q: Looking ahead to the Premiership Rugby Cup at Saracens then, will your experience of playing on Coventry’s artificial pitch be useful at the StoneX Stadium?
GI: It’s going to be quick, that’s the main thing I got from that. The bounce of the ball is going to be a bit different, but when the training pitch behind the stadium gets particularly muddy, we go off to the university and train on a 4G pitch there, so we’re pretty much used to how we’re going to play on a 4G pitch. It kind of suits how we want to play as well because we want to bring tempo and move the ball around a lot, so playing on it will be exciting.
Q: Sarries play a bit differently to how London Irish and Harlequins play, what kind of game are you expecting from them?
GI: There will probably be a lot of kicking, they are probably going to be looking for territory, but in saying that, they have got people who are very dangerous as well. We’ll watch out for them, but at the same time if we do get into a kick battle, we’re quite happy to run it out as well.
Q: Saints have come close in both of their Premiership Rugby Cup games so far, what needs to be done differently for you to pick up your first win in that competition this season?
GI: I don’t think a lot needs to be done differently, especially from the game against Quins where either team could have won that game. We’ll be looking to stick to how we like to play, moving the ball around, and we’re confident we have everything we need within the squad to get the win this time.