Although pleased with the 41-34 victory over Gloucester, Northampton Saints Director of Rugby Phil Dowson was left to reflect on a second half that went from the sublime to the ridiculous.
It was anybody’s guess as to which way the match at cinch Stadium at Franklin’s Gardens was going at half-time, with the two teams locked at 10-10.
But it was Dowson’s men who upped their game after the restart, as Saints surged 41-15 clear after an early exchange of tries to put themselves in an unassailable position towards a third straight win in the Gallagher Premiership.
Unfortunately for the men in Black, Green & Gold, their intensity dropped in the closing stages, perhaps with the knowledge the game was won, allowing Gloucester to claw their way back from nowhere and take two losing bonus points back to Kingsholm.
Starting with the positives of another dramatic afternoon at the Gardens, Dowson said: “Across the board, from our set-piece, our breakdown, our ability to organise, our ability to communicate, there were loads of things that were positive.
“Our breakdown was outstanding, which was a big focus because they’ve got Val Rapava-Ruskin who’s unbelievable over the ball, Ludlow, Ackermann, Tuisue, all good over the ball.
“We talked about the breakdown being important and we were good in that spell, so there were loads of positives in terms of what we trained, what we identified and then what we performed.”
The performance for most of the second half was one that was set to make a massive statement on Saints’ behalf, as they opened up a huge 41-15 lead.
Their sixth and final try, finished by captain Fraser Dingwall, was one of the best scores seen at the Gardens all season, such was the speed and skill displayed in what was a tight area.
What followed, however, was less pleasing to Dowson, as three tries in the last seven minutes allowed Gloucester to snatch two losing bonus points that could prove crucial in the race for the Premiership semi-finals.
Dowson said: “I spoke to one of the players and said ‘well done’ and he said ‘way to make a win feel like a loss’. We were just so poor [at the end] and it’s not the first time it’s happened.
“Gloucester came roaring back into that and I’m just glad the game wasn’t five minutes longer.
“It’s not good enough and I think I’ve tried to set the stall out there without taking anything away – you have to enjoy your wins, you have to appreciate what was good in the game.
“But so much of that is avoidable if we continued to do what we were doing prior to that, so it’s frustrating and a lot to work on because that is the issue with our game at the moment.”Phil Dawson, Director of Rugby
Although he did not get on the scoresheet himself, Dowson praised the performance of James Ramm from fullback, who was a dangerous runner in attack as well as being solid in defence.
“He’s been brilliant. He’s been outstanding in the environment,” Dowson said.
“He’s quality in terms of what he does and in terms of under the high ball – he dropped one today, which was the first one I’ve seen!
“But he’s really strong at the back, makes good decisions on when to run or when to kick, he’s fast, with an ability to off-load.
“Defensively, he made that try-saving tackle in the corner on Jonny May, so we’re really happy with how he’s going and how he’s settled in.”