Skipper Lewis Ludlam issued a warning to his Northampton Saints teammates after an astonishing come-from-behind 36-31 win at Bath Rugby on Saturday.
The men in Black, Green and Gold trailed 31-12 with 16 minutes to play at the Rec, with Ben Spencer’s double stretching out the hosts’ lead after the interval following first-half tries for Max Clark and Will Muir.
Matt Proctor and Juarno Augustus had kept Saints in the contest but it was not until the final quarter of the match that Northampton came alive as Alex Mitchell sparked the remarkable turnaround on 65 minutes, before Tommy Freeman’s weaving run, a penalty try, and Mike Haywood’s opportunistic score with the clock in the red sparked wild celebrations from the visitors.
Despite recording one of the most incredible comebacks in Gallagher Premiership history to climb to fourth in the table with three matches to play, Ludlam insisted that Saints will need to massively improve ahead of the visit of defending champions Harlequins to cinch Stadium at Franklin’s Gardens this coming Friday.
“We used our ‘Get Out Of Jail Free’ card there, and we won’t get another one, so we can’t afford to have another 60 minutes like that for the rest of the season,” he said.
“Any time you step on the field and play like we did, you’re going to get stung. Lucky for us today, it wasn’t too far gone and the way we dealt with them going down to 13 players – keeping the ball on the field and going at them – was pleasing.
“We talk in the week about pressure and wanting to enjoy these must-win matches, and I think the final 20 minutes is one of the first times that we’ve truly felt that this season.”Lewis Ludlam
“We’re still treating every game as knock-out rugby still and deliberately not looking too far ahead. Quins at home is that next challenge for us; it’s a tough challenge but there’s heaps of confidence within the group at the moment – the boys are really starting to believe that when the chips are down, we can put in the performances that we need to.
“It’s just being able to do that from the first minute, that’s a feeling we’re trying to create. This team has never lacked character this season, but we have lacked control at times and that was the case during the first 60 minutes of this match, which is something we absolutely have to put right.”
It was a first Premiership win at the Rec for Saints under Chris Boyd, while the 36-31 victory completed a first season’s double over Bath for Northampton since the 2015/16 campaign.
The momentum seemed to shift after a long stoppage in play around the hour mark while Brandon Nansen was treated for a nasty head injury – thankfully the Saints lock was up and about following the match.
But Ludlam confirmed that there was no hairdryer treatment in the huddle from him, or from the coaching group at half-time, which sparked the turnaround.
He added: “There wasn’t any particularly harsh words spoken, that’s not really the coaches’ way, or in the huddle while Brandon was receiving treatment. Everyone came in and it was very process driven, and we worked out what we needed to do.
“I still don’t think we managed to put that in place for a long period in the second half, but a lot of the answers came from the boys and from intent – wanting to haul ourselves back into the game.
“There’s no shortage of motivation within the group. We’re doing it for the entire 57-man squad of players, not just the guys who were at the Rec.
“It’s a really tight group; everyone is training hard every day trying to push the season forward, and the tighter this squad gets the more we will come out on the right side of these matches where not everything goes our way.
“We didn’t get our game going in the first half and momentum kept swinging both ways. We need to get better at holding onto momentum once it’s in our favour, and we couldn’t do that for long periods during the first 40 minutes in particular.
“That’s something we’ll look at on Monday, but for now we’ll celebrate this win.”