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Moon reaping the rewards this term after off-season graft

We sat down with Northampton Saints lock, Alex Moon, ahead of this weekend’s Gallagher Premiership clash at Gloucester Rugby…

Q: Hi Alex, how much did you enjoy last weekend’s game against the Barbarians?
AM: I enjoyed it a lot. It’s quite refreshing to go into a training week and you’ve not really got anything to preview, because from week to week the BaaBaas completely change their game plans. It was nice to have a week that revolved around what we do best, just doing our basic stuff – like stripping back our line-outs; we could work on fundamentals of our game, like the lift, the jump, the throw, with drills like that. We still bought into it, but we didn’t have the BaaBaas mentality of being a bit loose and throwing it around in training or anything like that, we had a good training week. 

Q: Did that match help to keep a few players sharp after having the week off for the Premiership Rugby Cup game at Newcastle Falcons?
AM: Big time. You look back at last season, and after the two bye weeks we performed terribly in the first half of the following games. I’m assuming that was something the coaches were very mindful of going into this season, and for the guys who didn’t get any game time against Newcastle, it was very important to not have a two or three-week stretch without playing anything. Everyone enjoyed it – at the end of the day, you’re not going to complain about getting 40 minutes or whatever against the Barbarians. No, it’s not playing for England against an internationals-stacked Barbarians at Twickenham, but it’s still the Barbarians, which is pretty cool because we’ve all grown up watching them since we’ve been little kids!

Q: How much have you enjoyed the extra responsibility during the international window, with David Ribbans and Alex Coles both being away with England?
AM: Dave and Colesy are probably our main two line-out callers. For me, it’s something I’ve done loads of in the past – three or four seasons ago I spent most of the season calling the line-out. It’s something I’ve not done a whole lot of since then, but you still practice it all the time in training. So when I wasn’t playing as much, I was still getting to do it in the non-playing squad against those guys. It’s a skill I’ve kept on top of and this year, from a line-out-winning perspective, we’ve been considerably better than we have been in previous years – we’re up by about 10 per cent in terms of line-out ball won. I was under a bit of pressure to maintain that standard and we’re still sitting at just over 90 per cent, so we’re alright.

Q: What’s it been like sharing the second row with Lukhan Salakaia-Loto?
AM: We got our stats sent out two weeks ago, sort of a ‘Half-Term Report’ of stats, and the difference between the two of us! You can see on a weekend that he gets through so much work with ball in hand and then you see the amount of times I’m the inside support clearer compared to him. As soon as I see him around, I’m just saying ‘you go carry a big’un, I’ll just do your clear-out, I’ll do your tackling for you, you just focus on your carries and get us going forward.’ We bounce off each other well, and we balance each other out well. He’s been an awesome addition to the Club.

Q: What do you think of your form overall this season? You’ve certainly been enjoying more game time…
AM: Over the off-season, I actually talked to my girlfriend and my family a fair bit about what the plan was going forward. I just decided that I can’t have what’s happened for the last couple of years happen again. I was going well back in 2019 and 2020, but then things weren’t so good the last two seasons. Last season was actually better than the season before, so it was moving in the right direction, but I said to myself, ‘something has got to change here, because it is getting better, but it’s not getting better quickly enough for me.’ 

I’d been playing at 128 kilos the last couple of seasons, trying to be a big, heavy tighthead lock – trying to emulate the likes of Joe Launchbury, Will Skelton or Paul Willemse. I was trying to think of myself as that size, but that’s not actually what we really want out of me here, that’s not my game, so I dropped the best part of a stone during the off-season. I trained like mad over the off-season, which put me in good stead for pre-season and doing that has just got the ball rolling for me this season. It’s almost a result of me having a good, hard look at myself during the off-season and I’m enjoying it now. I’ve played in every Prem game so far this year and I’ve played in as many games this year (and we’ve not even reached the halfway point!) as I did last year, so I’ve been enjoying this season a lot more.

Q: Looking ahead to Saints’ first Premiership fixture in three weeks, just how important is Saturday’s match at Gloucester?
AM: It’s massive because of what happened there last season. We played a really, really good 60 minutes. Their big threat is their maul and we felt like we’d really contained them. We didn’t let them have a single opportunity down in our 22 for the first 60 minutes and then in the last 20 minutes, we give two penalties away in midfield and they get five opportunities inside our 22, and they scored off a couple of them. We were pretty miffed about that. Throughout this season, mauls have been a pretty big emphasis of ours and we almost circled this game a couple of months ago, because this is basically the halfway stage of the league and it’s against the team we deem to be one of the best mauling teams in the league. This will be a real test to see where we are in terms of our maul defence, so we’re looking forward to it.

Q: You mentioned how you felt on the final whistle at Kingsholm last season, were there similar feelings after the last league game at Saracens game three weeks ago?
AM: It was very frustrating, the Saracens game, probably because it’s happened to us a couple of times this season – it happened with the Leicester game here as well. You look at us at 55-60 minutes and you’d say we were in control of the game and then in both games we’re losing men, and that’s something we’ve addressed over the last couple of weeks. It’s been a big conversation point during team meetings about not only how we play under yellow card conditions, but also how we can avoid putting ourselves in that situation to begin with. In training, we’re having big chunks of time practicing under the yellow card situation and changing our mentality, where if you actually do commit yellow-card offences, there is now consequence to it. It’s not us keeping the session going as planned, it’s us accepting that we need to address this.

Q: As you’re aware, it is getting colder and wetter, so just how much does that allow tight-five forwards such as yourself to come into their own?
AM: I’m pretty open that I’m not the most skilful player in the whole world, or even the second row, but I don’t mind a maul or a scrum or just tucking it up the jumper and running it as hard as you can. I love this time of year because it’s just a good test to see where you’re at. It’s no secret that we play a pretty open game, but come December, January and February it’s not the ideal conditions for that, so we have to start evolving a little during this time of year and play a bit more of a traditional English Premiership style. It’s old school but it’s cool.

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