There might not have been any supporters in the stadium for Tom James’ first experience of an East Midlands Derby, but the Northampton Saints scrum-half insists the side were still acutely aware of what the annual clashes with Leicester Tigers mean to the Northampton faithful.
Saints came out on top of the 23-18 scoreline at Mattioli Woods Welford Road on Saturday, but had to hold out a late surge from Tigers to claim their fifth victory over Leicester in their last six meetings in all competitions, and keep their hopes of a top-four Gallagher Premiership place alive.
And 27-year-old James said that even without supporters in the stadium, the side knew exactly how special a win on Tigers soil is for the Town.
“We’re pretty over the moon with that,” James said after the match.
“We spoke all week about how special it is to come here and win; and not many of the lads had done that, so to win a Derby game against Leicester, we’re over the moon.
“Sometimes we’re our own worst enemy in terms of our discipline, and giving away some silly penalties, which gave them some field position. But you have to give [Tigers] credit, they’re a very good side with some very good players who are always going to put pressure on you.
“It was never going to be a game where we ran away with it, it was always going to be pretty tough right until the end.”Tom James
James – who joined Saints from Championship side Doncaster Knights in the summer of 2020 – had never featured in an East Midlands Derby until he replaced Alex Mitchell after half an hour at Welford Road, but the scrum-half said that his first taste of the local rivalry lived up to his expectations when it came to intensity.
“It’s definitely right up there in terms of the most intense games I’ve played in,” James added.
“They’ve got a pretty big pack and some pretty tough ball carriers so we knew it was going to be a really physical game and we had to try to match that. At times we matched that really well but at other times we let the pressure mount on ourselves by not being quite physical enough but luckily we got over the line in the end.
“We were obviously under the pump at the end there but every time we were able to have a little huddle or were able to speak to each other, we were able to tell each other to back ourselves and really concentrate.
“We knew we were good enough to hold them out, it was just a case of really focussing and concentrating and being physical enough to keep them out at the end.”
And the scrum-half said that extra push was easy to find when players like Club co-captain Lewis Ludlam, Derby veteran Tom Wood, and seasoned international Dan Biggar were all fighting tooth and nail beside him.
He said: “Those are the sorts of players you need in a Derby game, those are the sort of talisman guys who are going to put their hand up.
“Everyone else is going to follow their example.”
And with just five games left of the regular Gallagher Premiership season, James and the rest of the side know that they must be at the top of their game if they are going to secure one of the hotly-contested play-off places.
“We spoke in the week about how basically every game from now is a must-win,” James continued. “There are no easy games in the Premiership anyway but we’re pretty much playing knock-out rugby every week now to try to make the top four, so we can’t afford to slip up in any game.
“We’ve got a week off now. It's been a long old slog, there’s not been too many weeks off this year so I think everyone will enjoy putting their feet up for a bit but then we’ll get straight back to it.”