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Ludlam: Saints must take defensive improvement into Quins clash

Captain Lewis Ludlam cut a hugely frustrated figure as Northampton Saints could not make their pressure count during a 17-6 defeat against Munster in the Heineken Champions Cup – but insisted his side must continue to build on an improved performance when they face Harlequins in the Gallagher Premiership on New Year’s Day.

Trailing to two Gavin Coombes tries, Saints pressed their Irish visitors back during the second half at cinch Stadium at Franklin’s Gardens on Sunday, only to be repelled time and time again by Munster’s defence.

This was despite Munster having three men – Jack O’Donoghue, Craig Casey and Joey Carbery – sent to the sin bin at various points as the second 40 minutes finished scoreless.

It meant Saints remain without a win in the competition and face a tough task in trying to force their way into the Last 16 qualification places of Pool B when they face Munster and Stade Rochelais again next month.

However, with Quins heading to Northampton next on New Year’s Day, Ludlam called on his side to build on what was a vastly improved defensive showing.

Ludlam said: “This was a really frustrating one because from last week we fixed up a lot of the errors we wanted to fix up – in terms of defence, in terms of being cagier, in terms of being harder to score against, which I think were really good.

“However, the reality is they converted their points and we didn’t. We had heaps of territory, heaps of possession, but couldn’t convert that into points, which is a frustrating thing.

“I hate to keep banging the drum on the effort and desire, but it is there and that’s the great thing.”

Lewis Ludlam

“We need to keep fixing our game up because we were better than last week and in the New Year [against Harlequins] we’ll be better, and then the next week we’ll be better again.

“We just need to keep learning our lessons and see where it gets us, but in terms of effort and desire, I can’t ask for more from this group of boys.”

Ludlam himself was also shown a yellow card during the second half, along with O’Donoghue, following an almighty melee that began with the two players and ended with almost everyone on the field involved.

Referee Pierre-Baptiste Nuchy also opted not to award a penalty try to Saints, which would have reduced the deficit to four points, when Casey took James Ramm out in the air as the winger looked certain to score in the corner – but Ludlam insisted those decisions were not ultimately what cost Northampton the result.

He added: “We had a little bit of fisticuffs on the floor, then the boys react and we got two yellow cards. It’s frustrating, but it is what it is, and I think the boys adapted really well.

“They got fired up and we got stuck into them, spent enough time down there [in Munster’s 22] to score points, enough times to win the game, but we didn’t and that’s the end of it.”

Lewis Ludlam

“[The non-awarding of a penalty try] was one moment in a long period of play down in their 22. All we can look at is ourselves and we need to be better at converting points in their 22, and that’s one opportunity that’s gone amiss.

“Our fault maybe, maybe not, but all we can look at is ourselves and converting points in the way that we can. You control the things you can control, and that’s it.”

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