Ahead of the start of the Heineken Champions Cup competitions this weekend, we sat down with Northampton lock David Ribbans – who is relishing getting back into the Black, Green and Gold jersey again this Saturday after making his England debut over the autumn.
Q: Dave, it’s good to see you back. How do you look back on a month where you made your international debut for England?
DR: It’s been a busy last month – it was obviously pretty special to get my first cap, something I had been waiting for for a long time. I’m obviously buzzing about that, but there were a tough few results, especially after that Springboks game, but I’m back here now and we’re focusing on Europe, so we’re looking forward to it.
Q: You earned a lot of praise for your performance off the bench against New Zealand, how much did you enjoy that game?
DR: All gloves were off in the last 20 minutes and a few things stuck! It was great to be part of that comeback and to be able to make a bit of an impact for the team.
Q: Was that off-load which led to England’s second try against the All Blacks down to how Northampton Saints like to play rugby?
DR: I think it’s the way we train here – we are a highly-skilled team and that is something that comes naturally to most of us. To be honest, at that moment I didn’t think about the big stage. It was just one of those things where we’ve trained loads and it just happened to come off.
Q: Obviously, it was announced on Tuesday that Eddie Jones would be leaving his post as England men’s head coach. What was your reaction to the news?
DR: I’d spent a long time under Eddie and to finally be capped under him was amazing, so I’ve got to work hard again for the new coach to hopefully stay in the team. But I think Eddie’s record speaks for itself – it’s an unbelievable record and what he’s done for England has been fantastic. I think England are still in a very strong position, we’ve got some fantastic players, some great leaders within that squad and a huge amount of talent coming through in the Premiership.
Eddie was constantly challenging players and I always appreciated how he was always up front and honest with you and told you how it is. He’s an abrasive character and not to everyone’s liking, but he was brilliant with me and he definitely got the best out of a lot of players in that England team.
Q: So, now you’re back with Saints and there’s a huge challenge up ahead with a trip to La Rochelle in the Heineken Champions Cup...
DR: There’s no better challenge, really, playing the current European champions away from home, so there is a lot of excitement. It will be good to go on the road again – the last two games in France, against Bordeaux and Racing, were both called off with all the things that happened with Covid, so it will be good to get on the road again. It’s a good halfway point for us this season. I think the first half of the season has been quite disappointing, with some of the results, but it’s good that we can park the Premiership and go into something slightly different and challenge ourselves against a top team.
Q: How do you reflect on the season so far?
DR: It’s hard to say because I’ve not really been involved, coming back from my injury and then literally going straight into England duty. It’s been a bit of a weird start to the season for me with Saints, but I think there has been a lot of frustration within the group. We realise we have fallen short of where we wanted to be and where we set our sights on at the beginning of the season. But the good thing about sport is we’re only halfway through the season and we saw with Quins two years ago, where they came from around 10th to winning the Premiership, that things change really quickly. I think we’ve used this as a bit of a reset, going into a new competition, trying to freshen things up, and hopefully you’ll see a different side come Saturday.
Q: Do you mind going into the match this weekend as underdogs?
DR: It is what it is, you have to accept that. Of course we’re underdogs, we’re going in against the reigning champs and we haven’t got out of the group stages in the last two years. We are underdogs but I don’t think that’s anything to shy away from because when you’re underdogs, you’ve got nothing to lose. We’re going there with a clear plan and hopefully we can execute it. I think it should be good fun.
Q: Is it fair to say to know what you will be getting from Stade Rochelais?
DR: Yeah, a massive French pack coming through the guts and then they’ve got some big, powerful players in their backline, so it’s definitely going to be a physical challenge, but it’s something I’m looking forward to.
Q: How keen is everyone to make a real impact in Europe this season, after a couple of difficult years in the competition?
DR: A lot of this group, including myself, don’t really know what it’s like to get into the latter stages of Europe. There’s been quite a lot of emphasis on European rugby this week and we’ve just tried to freshen things up, and I think there is a lot of excitement in this group to see how far we can go. It brings up new challenges, new faces to play against, new stadiums, the whole thing, so there is a lot of excitement.
Q: Does it feel more like the Champions Cup of old now travelling restrictions have been lifted?
DR: Let’s hope so! It will be good to have some travelling support with us and seeing all the French fans in full force. I think we will be back to the old competition, with obviously some new faces with the South Africans joining. It should be good fun.