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Saints confirm new contracts for coaching team

Northampton Saints today announce that Director of Rugby, Phil Dowson, and Head Coach, Sam Vesty, have both committed their futures to the Club by extending their contracts.

The duo led Saints to a Gallagher Premiership semi-final appearance last term in their first season at the helm, with the side going from strength to strength so far in 2023/24 – currently topping the league table and finishing the pool stage of the Investec Champions Cup unbeaten, courtesy of a ten-game winning streak which stretches across November, December and January.

Coach James Craig (who looks after the line-out and defensive breakdown for the men in Black, Green and Gold) has also extended his stay at cinch Stadium at Franklin’s Gardens, meaning that with Matt Ferguson (scrum and breakdown) and Lee Radford (defence) both signing new deals last season, Saints’ coaching group is set for the foreseeable future.

“We’re absolutely delighted with today’s announcement,” said Mark Darbon, Chief Executive at Northampton Saints.

“When Chris Boyd first came to the Club as Director of Rugby in 2018, we set about appointing a set of young, ambitious and high-potential coaches who we hoped would ultimately lead Saints for the long term.

“Seeing that succession plan come to fruition has been incredibly satisfying, with Phil and Sam moving into their senior roles with great success, James Craig also transitioning from the Academy set-up, and Matt Ferguson taking on more responsibility also over the last couple of years in looking after the breakdown as well as our scrum. Lee Radford has joined this season and clearly has been a fantastic addition to the coaching group.

“Phil, Sam and the coaching group have the complete confidence of our board to continue to lead Saints into the future – we look forward to seeing what they can achieve in the seasons ahead of us.”

Mark Darbon, Northampton Saints Chief Executive

Dowson enjoyed a six-year playing career at cinch Stadium at Franklin’s Gardens prior to his transition into coaching, making 186 appearances in Black, Green and Gold as a player.

On the field he played a pivotal role in one of the most-successful periods in the Club’s history, as Saints claimed the Premiership and European Challenge Cup titles in 2014, the Anglo-Welsh Cup in 2010, and reached the Champions Cup final in 2011.

His 262 appearances in the Gallagher Premiership is the fifth-highest tally in the competition’s history, while Dowson was also capped seven times by England.

The 42-year-old returned to Northampton in 2017 as an Assistant Coach, having finished his playing career at Worcester Warriors. Dowson was promoted to Forwards Coach a year later upon Chris Boyd’s arrival at the Club, before becoming Director of Rugby ahead of the 2022/23 season.

“I’m loving my time at Northampton Saints, as I always have done – whether it be as a player, coach, or now as Director of Rugby,” said Dowson. “I’m really excited about the group we have together now, and seeing where we can take the Club moving forward.

“The difference from being a coach to being Director of Rugby has been huge, but I’ve been helped hugely by the likes of Chris Boyd, Sam Vesty, the other coaches and the department heads at Saints to make that transition. You have to learn quickly when you make mistakes, but I’ve really enjoyed the whole process and I really feel like I have found my feet now in my second year.

“I love competing, that passion still burns within me from my playing days, and Northampton is a wonderful place to play rugby. My goal moving forward is just to make sure I give all the players, the other coaches, and all the staff every opportunity I can to learn, improve and achieve what we all want to achieve.”

Phil Dowson, Director of Rugby

“We’ve built a brilliant environment here and we want to keep getting better.”

Vesty initially arrived in Northampton in 2018 as Attack Coach, having cut his teeth at Worcester Warriors following his retirement from playing in 2013.

The 42-year-old enjoyed a long and successful career on the pitch, making 228 professional appearances in total across spells with Leicester Tigers and Bath Rugby, scoring more than 350 points along the way. The utility-back also won two caps for England in 2009.

Following a five-year coaching stint at Worcester where he moved from coaching the Cavaliers side in the Premiership A League, to first-team Transition Coach, and finally Backs Coach, Vesty joined Saints ahead of the 2018/19 season.

During Chris Boyd’s four seasons at the helm, Vesty helped to transform Northampton into one of the most-potent attacking sides in the Gallagher Premiership, and progressed into the Head Coach role at the start of the 2022/23 campaign.

Vesty was also involved with England during a summer stint as skills coach in 2017 – overseeing two high-octane Test victories over Argentina – and will represent his country again this week as he coaches England A’s attack against Portugal.

He said: “Signing on again at Saints was a very easy decision for me. It’s a fantastic place to be, we’ve got a great playing group, and I’m excited to see how far they can go.

“This Club is very much about the people who are here – players, coaches, staff, supporters and so on. My family and I feel at home, we love living in Northampton, and we are surrounded by people who support us.

“Everyone’s attitude at the Club is geared towards wanting to be better every single day, and any help I can provide on that journey is really what motivates me, so I jumped at the opportunity to stay on.”

Sam Vesty, Head Coach

“I’ve always tried to bring a lot of energy to what we’re doing, and I thoroughly enjoy my job which I think shows – I’m definitely a little greyer since I started back in 2018, but it’s been a real privilege to mature with this group.

“We still have a long way to go; the end of the journey isn’t in sight, but we want to set the bar as high as we can and shoot for the stars – if we do that, and keep getting better, we can be a very successful team.”

Craig made 73 appearances for Saints during his playing career, representing the Club from 2011 to 2019 and earning an international call-up for England Saxons’ 2016 tour of South Africa.

The former lock assisted with the training of Northampton’s Academy sides for four seasons before hanging up his boots, and moved into coaching on a full-time basis following his retirement, starting in the Academy before transitioning into a first-team coaching position from the 2022/23 season focused on Saints’ line-out.

Ferguson meanwhile joined Saints in the summer of 2018 following stints with England Women, London Irish, Cardiff Blues, Bristol Rugby and London Welsh – and has marshalled Northampton’s scrum ever since. Rugby League convert Radford is the newest addition to Saints’ coaching group but has made a huge impact on the side’s robustness in defence since starting at cinch Stadium at Franklin’s Gardens last summer.

Dowson is thrilled to be keeping the coaching group together and hopes continuity can help Saints maintain their fine form.

He added: “I’m delighted to be signing on at the same time as Sam [Vesty]. I love working with him, all the players and coaches would agree that the energy and passion he brings to the group is second to none. We’re both very inquisitive people and we’ve got a great relationship where we can be really honest with each other, say what we think, and bounce ideas around to try and improve.

“James Craig has been outstanding as well. He coached our Academy teams and Bugbrooke RFC back when he was still playing, and has come all the way through the system to step up this year into his current first-team role.”

Phil Dowson, Director of Rugby

“He’s very thorough, oversees the players’ individual development plans, and he’ll always stand up for what he thinks in selection meetings and so on – it’s really important to have people tactically challenging Sam and I in that space.

“To keep the whole group together, with Radders [Lee Radford] and Ferg [Matt Ferguson] in there too, is fantastic. The cohesion amongst the coaches here is really strong, and so are the relationships they have built with our players, which has had a big impact on our performances.

“It’s a coaching environment where everyone is really tight, everyone gets through a ton of work and is pushing to get better, but there is also a lot of laughter every day so it’s a very enjoyable place to be.”

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