With the Anglo-Welsh Cup Final weekend originally going to be one of a rest week for Saints after having dropped out in the pool stages despite one last huge push against Scarlet, Saints filled their what would have been their week off with a friendly derby with local Championship side Bedford Blues.
Mark Hopley said that the game came at an opportune moment for Saints and allowed them to not only give members of the wider squad important game time but saw the return of a number of injured players before next weekend’s all important derby with Leicester Tigers.
“We’ve got a hungry squad at the minute,” Hopley commented after last night’s fixture at Goldington Road.
“We’ve got a lot of players coming back from injury so this game came at the perfect time for those boys and gave them an opportunity to get some valuable game time.”
Speaking about the trio of backs returning to Saints’ lineup, namely Tom Stephenson, JJ Hanrahan and Luther Burrell, Hopley said that while Saints looked a little rusty at times those injured players slotted back into the squad well as the side racked up a 52-17 win over Bedford.
“I thought they all did really well. You can see that we’re probably a little bit rusty as a team because there’s a lot of boys there that haven’t played rugby and that’s not necessarily those boys coming back from injury it’s more a reflection of us as a squad.
“These boys have trained really hard all week as well so there’s probably a little bit of fatigue coming into that as well but I thought they did outstandingly tonight.”
With no Wanderers fixtures since December, Hopley said that it was important to get the wider squad game time and that this fixture game at the perfect moment for that.
“It is frustrating to not have Wanderers games and we’ve had some of the younger guys in particular out on dual-registration because of that. You can see in their play that they’re not rusty and they’re match fit. Whereas for some of the other guys it is frustrating but it’s not a perfect world we live in and this game came along at the right time for us.”
Despite the final score perpetuating a landslide victory for Saints, the actual game was nothing of the sort and Bedford fought hard until the final whistle blew. Hopley said that that was a great credit to the Championship side and pushed Saints hard as they worked hard to defend their line in the last minutes of the game.
“A lot of credit has got to go to Bedford and the way they approached the game; they played a lot of rugby and they asked a lot of questions of us.
“But for me what was really good was how we were comfortable ahead on the scoreboard but that last five minutes we were under the cosh and we defended for our lives on our line.
“That shows the attitude and commitment and what our squad it about; the players work hard for each other and never say no.”
After spending the best part of two years out of the game, Saints’ youngster Will Allman made his return to play off the bench last night and Hopley said that his return was immensely pleasing to see.
“Just for Will it’s really, really pleasing to see him put a Northampton Saints shirt on.
“He had a really, really nasty hamstring injury and as a result of that he’s missed out on England Under-20s honours which I’m sure he would have got because he’s a fantastic player.
“He’s been patient, he’s done his rehab, he’s been really diligent with that and it’s taken a long time to get him back.
“He’s played a few games at Ampthill over the last few weeks on dual-registration and it’s just brilliant to see him back out there. He’s a quality player.”