We sat down with tighthead prop Paul Hill ahead of Northampton Saints’ trip to Coventry to face Wasps on Sunday...
Q: Was the defeat at Harlequins last Sunday one that got away for Northampton Saints?
PH: It was very frustrating, really. The handling errors killed us. You never want to walk away from a game and bury it, you’ve got to open it up and look at it and go ‘there’s some good learnings to be taken from it.’ We’re always striving to get better and not be embarrassed about a performance. Burying your head in the sand doesn’t get you anywhere, so there is a lot that we can learn from it and the good thing is handling errors and giving them a 14-point lead was something we generally don’t do. If we can make those small tweaks, we’ll be alright.
Q: Were the last 20 minutes a bit more like what Saints are about?
PH: Yes, we showed a little bit more of a Saints mentality. It shows that we generally are quite a fit team and we can play for 80 minutes. If we can keep teams out in that first bit of the game, we can run away with the score rather than be left chasing the game.
Q: There have been a few injuries to guys who play in the front row, has that meant quite a gruelling schedule for you so far this season?
PH: Injuries are part of the game, and I’ve had a few concussions and stuff like that over the years, but those boys need to be taken care of properly. This week, we’ve had a few lads come back into the fold and it will be good to have a few more boys training and keeping us all sharp.
Q: How tough have those injuries been, in terms of getting the scrum going so far this season?
PH: You’re asking a lot of people in the front row when you don’t have someone on the bench who can come on and you’re asking those boys to perform for 80 minutes. Manny Iyogun did well to front up and he’s done two near 80-minute shifts. Having strength in numbers and more boys training, and having good rotation, is good for the squad. There are guys in the front row itching to get back fit and after that things will be better.
Q: There is a new tighthead in the squad this season in Alfie Petch, how has he been settling in?
PH: He’s been doing really well. He’s another string to the bow for the tightheads. Me and Ehren [Painter] played well last season but now we’ve got to work hard to keep out shirts. Competition drives standards, so it’s good to have him in.
Q: Let’s look ahead to Wasps on Sunday, how important is it to start picking up wins after opening the season with just one victory in four games?
PH: In rugby, there is that swing in momentum where the second you start winning, that expectation of winning just becomes second nature. You’ve got to be cautious of not getting into a mentality where we just think ‘we have to win’, and we move away from performance. We’ve talked about the fact that if we perform, we will win, so if you’re worrying more about performance than winning, you’ll probably get more out of the game than if you’re constantly looking over your shoulder thinking ‘we absolutely have to win.’
Q: Do you look at the last few months of last season, when the team did perform and pick up results consistently, as inspiration?
PH: Absolutely, and the mood in the camp is very good. We’ve got to make the most of that and we’ve got a tight-knit group of lads here, so as soon as we can transfer that connectivity onto the pitch, we’ll be great.
Q: What do you make of Wasps as a team? They’ve been playing well despite their well-publicised off-field issues…
PH: They are, they had a week off last week but before that they beat Bath. They’ll probably have some fresh legs coming in after that week off and they’re a good team who play similar to Quins in the way that they move the ball around, but it’s about us putting our game on them.
Q: How difficult do you think it might be for their players to keep on performing with what’s going on in the background?
PH: It’s a difficult issue to talk about, and it is a situation we are fortunate not to be in at this Club. But you’ve seen the likes of Worcester, where they were obviously struggling and then they put out a big performance against Newcastle, so it might add wind to their sails. The whole off-the-pitch stuff can almost seem irrelevant, or it can sometimes benefit them. We need to make sure we’re focused on ourselves and focused on our performance.