Centre Matt Proctor is completely focused on securing Northampton Saints’ place in the Gallagher Premiership play-offs – three months after the men in Black, Green and Gold were largely written off.
Should Saints defeat Newcastle Falcons at cinch Stadium at Franklin’s Gardens on Saturday, they will finish in the top four for the first time since 2019 and give outgoing Director of Rugby Chris Boyd the chance to bow out in a blaze of glory.
Such a scenario seemed unlikely in early March when a 35-30 loss at Gloucester condemned them to a fourth straight defeat and left them eighth in the table, 11 points behind then-fourth-placed Exeter.
However, effectively playing ‘knockout rugby’ for the remainder of the campaign has led to a revival in fortunes, with five consecutive wins putting Saints’ play-off hopes in their own hands.
That remained the case despite last weekend’s chaotic 42-38 defeat at Saracens, making the equation when the Falcons come to visit a simple one.
Proctor said: “It’s a good challenge for us, going into play-off footy a week early.
“It’ll be a good test for us – obviously we have to win and it will be good to see how we handle the pressure and perform under pressure.”Matt Proctor
“But at the same time, we know that if we just do what we’re best at, we’ll be fine.”
Proctor actually improved Saints’ situation in the race for that final play-off place with an acrobatic finish at the corner off the final play at the StoneX Stadium.
Two scores from Tom James had already earned Boyd’s side a try bonus point, but it was Proctor’s late, late intervention that also gave them a losing bonus from a match in which they had earlier trailed 42-17.
That meant they head into the final round of regular-season fixtures two points ahead of fifth-placed Gloucester, improving the one-point advantage they had over the Cherry and Whites at the start of the weekend.
On that whirlwind finale in north London, Proctor said: “That’s something that we’re quite proud of, coming out of that at Saracens, with the way everything ended up.
“Obviously, picking up those two bonus points is massive in the context of our season and keeping ourselves alive.”
When asked how he had the energy to dive over for his try in that manner, he said: “I watch a lot of NRL, where they’re finishing like that all the time!
“I’ve seen that enough over the last couple of months, so I would have been angry with myself if I hadn’t have taken that opportunity.”
It was one of several barnstorming finishes Saints have been involved in during their current run, which was kicked off by a nervy 27-22 win over Wasps on March 13.
There was then that improbable comeback from 31-12 down in the final 20 minutes to win 36-31 at Bath, while James Grayson’s late penalty earned a crucial 32-31 victory over champions Harlequins.
Proctor is hoping Saints make life a little easier for themselves against Newcastle, however, saying: “We just need to be a bit more consistent in what we do.
“We’ve had a few weeks where we’ve been training just putting our game on the field and I think the longer we can do that, the more comfortable we are.
“As long as we play our game, and don’t go too far off script for long periods of the game, we should be alright.”
It has been an unusual end to the regular season for Saints, with that dramatic match at Saracens the only time they took to the field during the whole of May.
Exiting the European Challenge Cup at the round of 16 to Gloucester meant sitting out three of the last four weekends, although Proctor, 29, feels this has allowed him to recharge at a time he needed to most.
He said: “We had a couple of weeks off, so it’s been a good time for me to nurse a couple of injuries and niggles that I’ve picked up.
“It’s kind of worked out well for me, just having a bit of time off my feet and preparing for this week, and whatever there is to come after that.
“It’s been nice to just take a step back and let the body heal. It’s been a long season so it’s rare we get this week off before our last game, and the play-offs if we make it, so it’s come at a nice time for us.”Matt Proctor
The match will be a farewell at the Gardens for players who will be departing Saints this summer, including Api Ratuniyarawa and Piers Francis, with Teimana Harrison having, sadly, already played his last game for the Club.
The match against the Falcons also comes too soon for Saints stalwart Tom Wood, who announced this week he would be retiring from playing after 12 years’ stellar service.
On his departing team-mate, Proctor said: “He’s a Saints legend, and I think everyone knows what he means to this Club.
“It’s unfortunate he’s picked up his [shoulder] injury this year, but he’s been massive, even in the last couple of years that I’ve been here.
“He’s one of those guys where if he speaks everyone listens. He has an awesome presence about him, a massive presence about him and it’s sad to see someone like that step away.”