Hooker Robbie Smith praised the composure Northampton Saints showed in closing out a 31-28 victory at Newcastle Falcons which put them on the brink of the Premiership Rugby Cup semi-finals.
Saints will not know for sure if they have made it into the last four of the competition until after the final round of group fixtures, but it will take something remarkable to deny their progression, following their third win from four games in Pool 3.
They did, however, have to collect themselves at half-time after allowing a 21-0 lead slip away as the Falcons fought back to level the match at 21-21.
Smith put Saints back in front when he darted through a gap to score against his former club before Joel Matavesi kicked a penalty, and although Newcastle pulled a try back, the 2018/19 competition winners held on for the five points.
Smith said: “What was spoken about was getting back to how we were playing in the first 20 minutes and then control that and keep it there.
“It doesn’t need to be fancy rugby the whole time, we need to be able to see out games the way we did.”Robbie Smith
“I suppose that is the most pleasing thing, that we had a reaction. It wasn’t just up then down and stayed down – we went up, down, then back up again.”
Another pleasing aspect for Saints was Smith’s performance, in what was the 24-year-old Scot’s second start for the club.
While Saints have used the Premiership Rugby Cup as a means to blood youngsters this season, it has also given senior members of their squad needing game time the chance to impress.
That was definitely the case in their front row in the North East, where Smith stood out – with his crucial try in the 53rd minute at Kingston Park the cherry on top of an accomplished performance – alongside Saints centurion Ethan Waller and Ehren Painter.
Smith said: “It’s always nice to have Big Rig [Painter] on beside you and let him go to work, and then Alfie Petch comes on and does exactly the same. It was a good performance all-round from the front row.
“The Red Sea just seemed to open up for me for the try, and I don’t know how I fitted through, but I managed to dot one down.”
Smith was one of three players, alongside Geordie Irvine and Brandon Nansen, to open their try-scoring account and was delighted to take his opportunity in a competition where Saints have been thoroughly entertaining this season.
“It’s been class; you see guys like 17-year-old Henry Pollock coming in and getting their chance to put their hand up,” Smith said.
“He won a key turnover at the end, a penalty. There is an opportunity for everyone in this competition.
“We need games like that because you might not be playing in the Premiership week in, week out – but you get a great performance away up here and it shows what we’re doing in training and what we’re working on is working.
“That win is massive for the whole squad, and it will give energy to the team to kick on in the coming weeks.”