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Mitchell: Small improvements vital for Saints to beat Premiership’s best sides

We sat down with Northampton Saints’ scrum-half Alex Mitchell ahead of a crucial Gallagher Premiership clash against Newcastle Falcons on Saturday…

Q: Was the lingering feeling after the Saracens match that it was a case of ‘what might have been’ for Saints? 
AM: Obviously, it was frustrating. We had a decent performance in the first half, and going in at half-time at 6-6 felt quite disappointing because we had been on top in everything but the scoreboard, but that sometimes happens. We had chances in the second half, but there were just too many little errors – and discipline errors – and those lapses in concentration let them into the game. At the end of the day, we weren’t good enough in that second half and that’s why they pulled away with it. It was a frustrating performance, a frustrating result, but hopefully we can right some wrongs this week and get the job done at Newcastle. 

Q: Why did Saints not take as many chances as usual inside Sarries’ 22 last Sunday? 
AM: We come away with points normally – we feel like we’re a good attacking side that can get points in most of the games we play. We just seemed to struggle last week – again, just little errors or lapses of concentration. We know how good a side Sarries are in the defensive department, especially in their 22. We had a lot of entries into their 22 but didn’t get our rewards for it in that first half, and we paid for it in the second half. That’s something we need to work on and something that we need to sort out this week because, obviously, if you don’t score points, you’re not going to win games. 

Q: Let’s look at Newcastle Falcons; what have you made of them so far this season? 
AM: They’re obviously a solid outfit with a big pack and set-piece, so we’ll have to deal with that on Saturday. Newcastle can be a tough place to go, but we’ve just got to focus on ourselves this week and if we put our shape onto them and our performance, we’ll actually get some points and come back with a victory – it’s always a good place to win, up there. 

Q: How tough is Kingston Park to visit? 
AM: It is always a tough place – obviously it’s quite far up north and it always seems to be wet and windy, especially when you’re playing in mid-January! It’s something we’ll have to deal with and it’s just a game of rugby at the end of the day. When we get out there, we need to switch on and be our normal selves. We’re looking forward to it and when you do win it’s obviously an enjoyable bus journey back. 

Q: After losing a couple of games, is it tempting for players to try and force things a bit more? How much have the coaches been telling you to keep playing your normal game? 
AM: In the first half, for the last couple of weeks, we’ve been strong but when we’ve gone behind in the second half, we have tried to maybe force it a bit more because we’re trying to chase the game. But we know that if we stick to our game plan and what we’ve done in that first half, we don’t need to change it. There are little things we need to work on – they’re not our shape or big set-piece things. It’s just little details throughout the team, whether that’s discipline, catch-pass errors or whatever it is across the board. We just need to get better to win against these better sides.

Q: It feels like Piers Francis can’t catch a break, after he had to go off injured against Saracens. How’s he been this week? 
AM: He’s actually had his head up. He’s obviously been very unlucky with injuries and what not, but he’s quite a positive lad and he seemed fine this week. Knowing Piers, he’ll hopefully come back from that better than he was before and he’s always a determined guy, so I’m sure he’ll come back in a very good place. 

Q: One player who is back in training is Teimana Harrison, just how important is it to have someone like him back playing in front of you? 
AM: It’s massive. We know how good Tei is with his ball-carrying and he is how he is around the Club, so it’s been awesome to have him back this week. If selected he’ll make a big impact, so it’s great to have him back around the group and hopefully he’s back to his best. 

Q: Looking a little further ahead, are you excited for the return of the Heineken Champions Cup later this month? 
AM: There’s obviously a little uncertainty with the Covid situation at the moment, but we’re preparing for those games as we normally would and we’re used to a little uncertainty now. It’s a weird competition structure this year, and if you’re in the top eight or top 11, you’re still in the Champions Cup or the Challenge Cup because it’s only one team that drops out. We know that if we get some results against Ulster and Racing, then we’ll put our hand up for Europe because we want to challenge in both competitions. We’re not out of the running yet. 

Q: You made your England debut last autumn. Have their coaches been keeping in touch with you since? 
AM: I sometimes get the odd text and phone call here and there, but I don’t try and focus on internationals too much at the moment. I’m trying to focus on my form at Northampton and that should help things to take care of themselves. Whatever happens there happens, and I’ll just always focus on my game at Northampton and try and get Saints to a better place. 

Q: You were already playing with bundles of self-belief before your call-up, but did that give you a further boost in that regard? 
AM: It was obviously such an awesome experience, playing for England and getting the opportunity there. That obviously builds confidence, knowing that you’re good enough to play at that level. I really enjoyed my time there and hopefully I can get more opportunities and push on.

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