Centre Tom Litchfield insists Northampton Saints’ youngsters are determined to make their mark in this season’s Premiership Rugby Cup competition.
The men in Black, Green and Gold went down 36-26 to London Irish in the Club’s opening Cup clash on Saturday afternoon, despite a thrilling second-half comeback which saw Saints claw back a 19-point deficit after half-time.
With an average age across the squad of just 23, some inaccuracy and ill-discipline from Northampton saw them trail 26-7 at the break at cinch Stadium at Franklin’s Gardens, with a debut score from fullback George Hendy keeping them in touch.
But while the young Saints turned things around after the break – sending James Fish, Josh Gillespie and Litchfield himself over to briefly level the scores – the Exiles struck the killer blow with five minutes to play, adding a converted try and a penalty to their tally, meaning Northampton had to settle for a try bonus point in defeat.
But for 19-year-old centre Litchfield, who crossed the whitewash for his first Saints try on his maiden start, it was the sluggish opening 30 minutes that stung the most for Saints.
“We didn’t quite get out of the blocks in the first half,” said Litchfield.
“But in the second half we really picked it up. We got some good messages in at half-time and the game was there for us to take, but in the end we just couldn’t quite get there.
“I just tried to put my best game out there, tried to get us going forwards.”Tom Litchfield
“And in that second half, the boys really came together and put out a decent performance. But we just couldn’t get back from the poor start.”
Despite his tender years, Litchfield was by no means inexperienced in comparison to his Saints teammates last weekend, with some 13 of the youthful matchday 23 still yet to hit double digits of appearances in Black, Green and Gold.
And with six new Saints written into the history books – Kayde Sylvester, Ethan Grayson, George Hendy, Conor Carey, Tom Lockett and Geordie Irvine all made their senior debuts – Litchfield was delighted to be able to share the moment with his Saints Academy teammates.
He added: “We had a lot of debuts out there, a lot of lads playing for the first time.
“What’s better than playing rugby with your mates on a Saturday? It was really good to see some of those guys that I’ve been playing with for a few years now all sharing a pitch together, playing senior rugby for Northampton Saints.
“I was in the DPP [Developing Player Programme] here, that’s where I started out at Under-13s. I managed to keep myself in the system the whole way through, and then at Under-18s level I got offered a Senior Academy deal and here we are.
“I think that’s the same for a lot of the lads who played against Irish, coming through the DPP and sticking at, getting an opportunity, and taking it.
“You hear the odd story of lads dropping out of the system and other clubs picking them up. Look at Tommy Freeman, dropped from Leicester and picked up at Saints. But a lot of the lads stick with it here and if you work hard at Saints, you get your reward for it.”
Saints’ attentions now turn to Round 2 of the Premiership Rugby Cup this Friday, as they prepare for a challenging clash against Harlequins, and Litchfield knows that he and his teammates must make the most of their opportunities on the pitch if they are to keep pulling on the Black, Green and Gold jersey.
“You can almost view this as a kind of the ‘Youth Cup’,” Litchfield said. “We saw a lot of the boys got an opportunity against Irish, six lads getting their debuts.
“It’s a brilliant opportunity for us younger guys to show what we’ve got and get out onto the pitch. Hopefully we can do the same again against Harlequins.”