We sat down with James Grayson ahead of this Friday evening’s Gallagher Premiership visit to Ashton Gate to play Bristol Bears. The Northampton Saints fly-half is back from injury and hoping to play his part in a run to the league’s play-offs for the men in Black, Green and Gold...
Q: First of all, what were your thoughts on last Saturday’s eventful 41-34 victory over Gloucester?
JG: It was 70 minutes of proper rugby and then ten minutes of mental stuff at the end, where we just completely switched off – it took the shine off what was a really good performance for most of the game. If you’d given us five points at the beginning of the game, I think we’d have probably taken it, but we’ve got to be a little bit better than that at the end. That wasn’t where we really want to be.
Q: Do the players feel a bit better about the win, now the dust has settled?
JG: At 41-15 we’re looking down the barrel of us sending a statement to the league, and then to just slip up like that at the end is frustrating. We spoke about it after [the game] and we spoke about it on Monday as well, and if we really want to go to a top-two place in the league and get a home semi-final, then those are the games where you see them out and it’s five points to nil instead of five-two. Look, five points is brilliant in this league, and we’ve got ten points from two of the top teams in the league over the last couple of weeks. It’s put us in a good place to go down to Bristol. We’ll just keep improving on our game and try and push forward.
Q: The two recent wins against Sale Sharks and Gloucester also kept up Saints’ excellent home record this season…
JG: In times gone by we’ve slipped up occasionally at home, but we really feel as though the Gardens is starting to become a fortress. We talk about being relentless and weren’t that on Saturday. We slipped up a little bit there, but we landed on the right side of the result when in times gone by, we maybe would have landed on the other side of that. That’s a definite improvement and there’s nowhere better to play than Franklin’s Gardens when it’s bouncing. You saw that against Sale and you saw that last Saturday, with the Saints Foundation Day and the good win against Gloucester.
Q: How good does it feel to be back after a couple of months out with a foot injury?
JG: It’s been a frustrating couple of months, obviously, not being able to contribute to the team as I’d have liked to. I broke my foot and then a had to get a plate and some screws put in it. It was unavoidable unfortunately, but it’s part of the game and I’m glad to be back. Hopefully I can keep being involved, keep trying to push the team forward and this is what you play rugby for, the business end of the season. You want to be involved in big games and there’s nothing like playing in front of a sold-out Franklin’s Gardens when it really matters, so hopefully I can get involved in a few more of those.
Q: How did that injury come about during the autumn?
JG: I basically had a stress fracture when I was younger from playing cricket and once your body has a stress response to a break, it can’t do it again. I had a stress fracture from pre-season, so I’d been carrying it for a while. It then just tipped over the edge against Bristol and we got it scanned and the specialist basically said: ‘Look, you can let it carry on and try and deal with the pain, but if it snaps you’ll be out for a lot longer than if you go under the knife now.’ It was one of those things where the right decision was made and, touch wood, no issues so far.
Q: It came at a time where there was some change at fly-half at the Club as well, with Dan Biggar leaving and Fin Smith arriving…
JG: Obviously, with Biggs going and then Fin coming in, it was like ‘right, we’re going to have a nice battle between us now’ and maybe at a fractionally more level playing field than against the British & Irish Lion with more than 100 Test caps! Then I got injured and was out of the fold when Fin came in. He did really well and the team was doing pretty well. So, while that was great for the team, it was frustrating personally to be sat watching and not being able to contribute. Hopefully now I’m in a better spot to put my hand up, and we can keep battling for the No.10 shirt.
Q: Did you enjoy playing at fullback, alongside your brother Ethan, in your comeback match for Bedford Blues last month?
JG: It was cool, I got to play with my brother and it was my first time playing for Bedford, but I didn’t really touch the ball that much. I was kind of running around chasing shadows because I’ve never played there (fullback) before. If I play fullback again, I’ll probably do a little less running and kind of just let the play come to me, but it was nice to play with my brother again. Goldington Road is a great place to play and I’m thankful they allowed me to go and get 60 minutes before I managed to play again for Saints.
Q: Looking at the race for the Gallagher Premiership semi-finals, is Saints’ destiny in their own hands more than last season?
JG: Last year we were chasing our tails a little bit! We were reliant on some results and then to go undefeated at the back end of the season. It’s a different scenario but we’re just trying to focus on what we can do. We know that if we put our game on the pitch properly, with physicality and aggression, we’ll do well against most teams. It’s the business end of the season, five games left, and it’s don’t-blink time now. We’ll see how we get on.
Q: Are you expecting an open game when you play Bristol Bears on Friday night?
JG: Yeah, they’ve got some proper globetrotters – Semi Radradra, Charles Piutau, Chris Vui – they’ve got some really cool players, so we’ve got to be wary of their threats. They play from anywhere, they pick through breakdowns, they chuck ridiculous offloads so we’ve just got to be on our metal for the full 80 minutes and be prepared for everything they throw at us. We also need to put our game on the pitch because when we do that well, teams struggle to deal with it. We’re aware of what they’ve got but it’s mainly about us.
Q: Away results have been a bit harder to come by this season, but you did win your last away game in the Premiership, at Leicester Tigers. How much does that help confidence?
JG: That was obviously a really good win away at Welford Road. We speak about away rugby being a little bit different to home rugby – sometimes you don’t get the rub of the green, the crowd gets on top of you occasionally and it’s about how you manage that. We’re going to go down there ready, we’ve had a short week but we’ve prepared well, and we’re looking forward to hopefully keeping our good run going.