We sat down with Saints skipper Dylan Hartley to get his thoughts on the state of play at Franklin’s Gardens.
Q: How are the senior players in the dressing room in particular feeling at the moment?
DH: It’s been an interesting fortnight for sure, but if anything we’ve been galvanized by the current situation, and there’s nowhere else to look now other than ourselves for improvement and results. The spotlight is on us, and it’s us in the team room that have to drive things so we can find that performance to be proud of and the result as well.
Q: Are you worried about the team’s form over the past few weeks or the coaching changes?
DH: There’s no fear here. I don’t see a squad that’s fragmented or afraid. The guys are in good spirits considering the circumstances. I don’t want to gloss over the fact that we haven’t won for a while, but we’ve got the right people in the room and I fully believe that we are not far away. The nature of the league and the competitions that we play in, the games come thick and fast and you don’t get any easy ones to get you back on track. It’s about the bigger picture; if you look at the image of us lifting the trophy there are probably more players absent now than are there, so what we can’t do is keep looking to the past and what we did then. We’re a completely different squad and we need to focus on what we have in the room at the moment – we want to look forwards to what lies ahead.
Q: Have you had to put an arm around Harry Mallinder at all?
DH: I actually had to go up to him and say well done for the way he’s ripped into training as per usual. He trains very hard and it must have been difficult for him, but there’s no signs of him feeling sorry for himself or aggrieved in any way. He’s a big boy and has cracked on – if anything he’s been ripping in even harder and that’s a huge credit to the type of guy he is.
Q: What were your thoughts on last week’s game against the Ospreys?
DH: Obviously we were disappointed with the result but I saw small things in our defence especially that definitely improved. It’s never ideal conceding four tries, but there were some work-ons and small things that we were a lot better at – so again we’ve worked hard on these little things that will hopefully make the big things a lot better. Hoppers, Phil Dowson and [England coach] Paul Gustard have been working long and hard with the team this week and the defence is looking good.
Q: Any messages for the fans?
DH: We’re very lucky to have this stadium and the fans we’ve got. When we win here there’s nothing like it, but when we don’t you have to carry that as well. I spoke to the guys at Church’s Shoes and at Carlsberg as well, and when we lose production in the factories goes down. So we need to find a win as soon as possible as people in other countries are getting thirsty! We feel lucky to have such loyal fans and it’s all about sticking with us through thick and thin. I’ve been through periods like this before in my time here, and it’s rough, but you do come out the other side of it – experience tells me that there is a way out and we’ve got to focus on the process.
Q: Are the squad ready to lock horns with Premiership champions Exeter on Saturday?
DH: The opportunity and the challenge to take on the champions in Exeter at home just before Christmas is as big as they come. It’s an occasion we’re very excited about. They’re a very efficient team; I watched their game last week [against Leinster] with interest and they are a very well organised and drilled team. They fill the field well, spreading numbers across so they have great width, and they like to play a lot of rugby – what I mean by that is that they don’t like to kick it off the field, they like to keep it in play. Why is that? Because they’ve got good attacking runners and they are confident building phases, and once they get the ball in Jack Nowell or Olly Woodburn’s hands they can exploit weak defenders. So we’re fully aware of how they want to play, and we’ve prepared as well as we could with the time we’ve had.
Only a handful of single tickets remain for this weekend's clash against Exeter Chiefs starting from £16, and can be purchased from the ticket office at Franklin’s Gardens, online by visiting bit.ly/SAI-EXE-201718 or by calling the Saints Ticket Office on 01604581000.