Scrum-half Tom James admitted his two-try return for Northampton Saints on Sunday was bittersweet in the context of an agonizing 22-23 Gallagher Premiership defeat to Bath.
With Alex Mitchell called into the England squad the week beforehand, James was given the opportunity to start Saints’ first game at Franklin’s Gardens of 2021 in the No.9 shirt.
The 27-year-old former Doncaster man grasped the bull by the horns, scoring two tries in a first half that Northampton largely dominated – his first two scores in league action in Black, Green and Gold.
And although James was delighted to be able to contribute to the hosts’ success on the scoreboard, his frustration was clear after Saints allowed Bath to overcome a 19-3 deficit to secure a win.
“It’s always nice to get over the line,” he said. “I’m enjoying any opportunity that I can get.
“I feel very lucky and privileged to be playing at this level and I’m just trying to learn, enjoy my rugby and improve as much as I can.”Tom James
“It makes it much easier when you’ve got some very good players around you – George Furbank, Rory Hutchinson and Piers Francis. They’re all international players so it makes it easier when you slot into the half-back position with those guys outside.
“We were pretty pleased with the first 20 minutes. We moved the ball well, we identified space and played with a lot of tempo that caused them plenty of problems.
“The ten minutes before half-time we lacked discipline and it gave them the field position to get back into the game. We spoke at half-time about the next five or ten minutes [after the break] being really important but didn’t do ourselves justice when we came out.
“The last few weeks we’ve been pretty happy with our defence in our own 22, but when you allow teams to get into that area of the pitch with a lack of discipline, teams like Bath with the players they have are going to cause you a lot of problems.
“We had those two disallowed tries, but we needed to keep applying pressure after they weren’t given and we didn’t. That’s what let them back into the game.”
Despite the result, James was thrilled to be back playing at Franklin’s Gardens again. Due to the schedule and a series of unfortunate Covid-19 cancellations, the last time Saints ran out at home had been before the turn of the New Year.
Having only joined the squad last summer, a packed-out Franklin’s Gardens is something that James has yet to experience, and it is a prospect which he is very much looking forward to.
He said: “Last time I played here was the Boxing Day game. I’m very excited to be playing in front of people.”
“Even when we had 2,000 people back in for the Bordeaux game it was pretty loud. It’s a great atmosphere here so that’s something I’m looking forward to experiencing.”
The defeat brought to an end the four-match winning run that had put Saints firmly back in the hunt for a top-four finish. Next weekend the men in Black, Green and Gold will look to respond against a Harlequins side that is also pushing for a semi-final place.
“They are one of the form teams,” acknowledged James. “Both sides are driving for the top four.
“We maybe need to focus on ourselves and what we’re doing. When we move the ball really well, we cause teams a lot of problems, so it’s a case of trying to play that sort of system and keeping our discipline under control – then it all comes together.”