Northampton Saints has today confirmed the club’s new coaching structure for the 2017/18 season onwards.
The structure both builds on the stability which established the club as one of the most consistently successful in the Aviva Premiership over the past decade and sees the return of one of the most popular and respected figures in the Saints’ recent past.
Phil Dowson wrote his name into the club’s history by being the first player to lift a major domestic trophy in black, green and gold, the 2010 LV= Cup, just one of his 187 first team appearances in a six-year playing career at Franklin’s Gardens. Dowson – who also helped lift the Aviva Premiership and European Rugby Challenge Cup trophies in 2014 – was one of the senior leaders throughout his time at the club, driving standards on and off the pitch, and this summer he will be back in the East Midlands in a new role of assistant coach.
Dowson completes a coaching quartet also including Alan Dickens, Mark Hopley and Dorian West. Dickens will build on his work leading an attack which has seen the Saints team average three-and-a-half tries per game since the turn of the year, while Hopley steps up from his role as Senior Academy coach to run the first team’s defence. West continues as forwards coach.
Director of rugby Jim Mallinder says that he has full confidence in the coaches’ abilities to bring the best out of the players and get the team back to the top of English rugby.
“We believe we have a strong, stable and committed group of coaches that will take the team forward next season,” he said. “The first half of the current season was not what we wanted it to be, but since Christmas we have been playing some good rugby in all competitions, scoring tries and being very competitive in every game.
“Dorian, Alan and Mark have a strong working relationship and we are seeing the benefits of that on the pitch. Alan’s qualities were recognised last season when he helped England Saxons to a two-nil series win over the Emerging Springboks, Mark deserves his opportunity at this level after his excellent work with the Senior Academy over a number of years and the first team in the past few months, and both of them have achieved the highest possible level of coaching qualifications with the RFU.
“Stability is a hallmark of many successful teams, but it also good to freshen things up and we’re delighted to be welcoming Phil Dowson back to the club. Phil has been a leader throughout his playing career, whether at Newcastle, here at the Saints, or with the England Saxons, and played a key role in establishing the culture that took us to the top of the Aviva Premiership. He was always a coach on the field and we know that he will have the respect of the players. He’s had a great playing career and has everything it takes to be a successful coach, too.”
Dowson is looking forward to returning to Franklin’s Gardens to begin the next stage of his career.
“The Saints was where I enjoyed most of my success as a player, and in my six years there we were competing in semi-finals and finals each season,” he said. “So while I’m sad to be retiring this is a great opportunity to get involved with the club that I love. I obviously know Jim, Dorian, Alan and Mark really well, and how the club works, and this will be a massive help as I make the transition into the next stage of my career onto what will be a steep learning curve.
“Franklin’s Gardens is a special place, and throughout the club – players, coaches, staff, ownership and supporters – everyone wants the Saints to be successful. It’s a strong club with strong values and culture, and I’m looking forward to getting on the other side of the fence and helping the players get better and to achieve things.”
THE SAINTS' COACHING TEAM
ALAN DICKENS (attack coach) A former scrum-half with Sale, Leeds, Saracens and the Saints, Alan won the Powergen Cup and European Rugby Challenge Cup as a player before making the move into coaching in 2010 with the Saints Senior Academy. He stepped up to the first team in 2012 and helped guide the team to the 2013 Aviva Premiership final and the 2014 Aviva Premiership and European Rugby Challenge Cup titles. RFU Level 4 qualified, Alan was on the coaching staff of England Saxons’ undefeated tour of South Africa in summer 2016.
PHIL DOWSON (assistant coach) Phil retires at the end of the current season to return to Franklin’s Gardens, where he won the 2014 Aviva Premiership and European Rugby Challenge Cup titles and captained the team to the 2010 LV= Cup title, becoming the first Saint to lift a major domestic trophy. His 259 Aviva Premiership appearances is the most among active players, and he captained both the England Saxons in multiple Churchill Cups and the senior England side against the Barbarians.
MARK HOPLEY (defence coach) Mark has spent virtually all of his professional career at the Saints, the club he joined in 2005. After helping the team win the 2009 European Rugby Challenge Cup and 2010 LV= Cup he moved into coaching with the Saints Senior Academy in 2010, becoming the first member of the original RFU Academy group to become a coach at an Aviva Premiership club and is now RFU Level 4 qualified. He guided the Wanderers, the Saints’ second team, to two Aviva ‘A’ League finals and the Under-18s to the Premiership Rugby Academies League title, and in recent months has been working with the first team squad’s defence.
DORIAN WEST (forwards coach) As a player Dorian won multiple Premiership and Heineken Cup titles, the Rugby World Cup and toured with the British and Irish Lions. And as a coach he helped England Under-21 to a Grand Slam and England Saxons to Churchill Cup success. Together with Jim Mallinder he joined the Saints in 2007, guiding the team to immediate promotion and then cup finals in each of the next seven seasons, winning the 2014 Aviva Premiership and European Rugby Challenge Cup titles, the 2010 LV= Cup and 2009 European Rugby Challenge Cup.