We sat down with Northampton Saints’ defence coach, Ian Vass, ahead of this weekend’s vital home Gallagher Premiership clash against Bristol Bears…
Q: We’ll start by looking back on the win at London Irish, was that one of the best performances of the season?
IV: It turned out that way, although the first 20 minutes were obviously a bit ropey. After that, we consolidated ourselves and defended well in that period before taking advantage of the cards. When we had that advantage, we made the most of it and moved the ball well. They had to play catch-up and we, I suppose, took advantage of that too and after they dropped the ball a couple of times, we scored, so overall it was pleasing because it was a big game for our season.
Q: Was one of the most pleasing aspects the way the try-scoring chances were taken?
IV: Even in the three games in a row we’d lost before Wasps, we were winning in games and felt we’d played well up to a certain point, but for whatever reason just couldn’t get it over the line. We’d been in dominant positions before, but this time we managed to make the most of the dominant position and keep going, whereas we’ve previously not been able to finish off the game when we’ve been in dominant position. In a way, it was coming a little bit, for an opposition team, and fortunately for us it was in a big game.
Q: How much more is there riding on the games ahead as a result of getting that win at Brentford?
IV: That’s why it was such a big game. It was one of those cliched ‘eight-point games’ and we’d put ourselves in a position from the previous four or five games where we had to win that game. Having done that, it was pleasing, but that big-game mentality moves one game down the line and on to the next one, which is Bristol. From now on, with five games left, we need to win most of the those in order for us to get to where we want to get to – into the top four.
Q: Does that run of results Saints had about a month ago mean there is no margin for error anymore?
IV: Yeah, that margin for error has definitely disappeared, as a result of that run against Sale, Exeter and Gloucester where we didn’t win those tight games.
Q: Taqele Naiyaravoro made his return from long-term injury the Premiership Rugby Cup game against Newcastle Falcons on Wednesday night. How much of a boost is it to have him fit again?
IV: It could be really important. He’s definitely got something different to most players in the league and having him available, whether that’s to start him or having him off the bench, is a boost to how we could play or how we can finish games. What he provides is a choice, so hopefully he will be able to consolidate that game time from Wednesday and be good to go after our little break from action.
Q: Looking ahead to Bristol Bears, they’ve had a tough season, but they come to cinch Stadium at Franklin’s Gardens off the back of a good performance at Saracens…
IV: Pat Lam has been pretty open about what they’re after, in that they’re preparing for their European Cup tie against Sale. I think that will be their main drive and they’ve had their fair share of injuries too. They’ve got quite a few people back fit and available, so we’re still expecting a huge challenge from a team full of quality that could definitely beat anyone on their day. They’ve faced the same challenges as teams who lose international players by sustaining injuries and it can become hard to be consistent when that happens. That’s what they’ve faced, but now they seem to be getting everyone back fit just in time for us! On their day, they can be as good as any team in the Premiership.
Q: How helpful is it to have almost everyone who played last week fit again for Saturday?
IV: It’s one of the few times in the year where we’ve been able to be pretty consistent in our team selection. We’ve got most of our players back, other than the odd person here and there. What will be nice is for us to, hopefully, have a consistent team week-on-week for the next few weeks. But the ability to have consistent selection definitely helps with performance and this is the time of year we need it.
Q: You’re suddenly spoiled for choice at fullback, with Tommy Freeman back from injury, George Furbank back from England duty and even the emergence of George Hendy…
IV: Yeah, and Ace [Tuala] is in that space as well. We saw George Hendy have that wonder 20 minutes at Saracens and it’s fair to say now that fullback is not the problem position that it was in the middle of the year. It’s nice to have those decisions, really. It’s just good to have another string to the bow, having the people who can play there. Now is about getting the best combinations on the field at this time of year.
Q: After this week, the Premiership is put to bed for a couple of weeks, just how important is it to go into that break on a high?
IV: It’s huge because we’re still keen on the Challenge Cup and whoever we end up playing there. Winning the Bristol game would be so big because it would keep us in two competitions, and that’s where you want to be; you want to be in it. If we can get a positive result on Saturday, that would definitely be what we need, going into what will be a big European game. There are two things we want to go for at this point in the season and hopefully we can get Bristol done first.