We sat down with Saints’ attack coach, Sam Vesty, ahead of this weekend’s Challenge Cup Round of 16 clash away at Gloucester Rugby…
Q: We’ll start by taking a look at some of the new signings that have been announced this week. What can you tell us about Angus Scott-Young, the second player to be brought in from Queensland Reds, following Lukhan Salakaia-Loto?
SV: He’s a guy who wants to be a better player. He’s come with some real kudos from some people who know him and he’s a really hard worker – he’s one of those guys who leaves everything out there on the pitch. He’s also got some really good leadership qualities that will be important to us, so having him come to increase the depth of our squad is incredible. He hits really hard, so we’re looking forward to seeing him.
Q: How good is it to bring in one of the stand-out players in the Championship by signing Sam Graham from Doncaster Knights?
SV: He’s been brilliant for Doncaster and what really impressed us was his character and how he just wants to improve. He won’t rest on his laurels and stay somewhere where he’s comfortable just because it’s the easy thing to do, he wants to challenge himself and move. That’s exactly what we were after because we have a good history of improving players and I think he sees that, so I think he’s a really good fit. He’s a stand-out ball-carrier in the Championship and it will be great to see him add to our ranks.
Q: Robbie Smith is someone Northampton Saints supporters will have seen in the recent Premiership Rugby Cup match against Newcastle Falcons. What will he add in the hooker department?
SV: Robbie’s another guy that didn’t just want to stay where he was, and he felt like his path was blocked when it comes to playing for Newcastle. He wants to move and challenge himself to be at a place where he feels he could get some Premiership Rugby game time and be a Premiership hooker. That character is an impressive trait that we’re really looking for and he’s got that in spades. He played at Bedford two seasons ago and they talk of him very highly, so it’s all pointing in the right direction.
💬 “Sam is one of the most powerful ball-carriers and tacklers in the Championship, and captained Doncaster brilliantly.— Northampton Saints 😇 (@SaintsRugby) April 11, 2022
“Robbie is a really good set-piece forward – Matt Ferguson highlighted him for his scrummaging and throwing.”
Find out more about two promising new signings.
Q: Looking ahead to the European Challenge Cup last 16 tie at Gloucester, how fresh have the players been looking after their week off?
SV: It’s funny because when you have a week off, in the first session back there are always lots of balls put down because skills are in different places. It takes a little while to get the head tuned back into rugby, so on Monday we got the ball moving and ran around to try and blow the cobwebs out. Then on Tuesday we started to go pretty tough and the boys got back into it really well. Having a few days off has been helpful at this time of year, it was good timing for us.
Q: How are the players feeling ahead of a second trip to Gloucester of the season?
SV: I think we went there and played pretty well, though we didn’t manage the last 20 minutes very well last time, so we’ve got a score to settle there. Obviously, when you’re in knock-out rugby, it’s a bit of a fresh challenge. It’s a new mindset away from the Premiership and it just gives everyone a bit of a buzz because it’s something fresh. Something is on the line this weekend; if you win, you’re through and if you lose, you’re out, to state the obvious.
Q: Do you feel the team has made progress in the last five games since the last visit to Kingsholm, which came during a run of defeats?
SV: During that period, we were actually playing pretty well, but we lost some big moments and we didn’t manage things that we could have done a lot better. But we weren’t a million miles away as well so yes, we lost three games on the trot and it hurts you, and it hurts you in the league, absolutely, but you also know that the performances are not far away. I think as a group we felt that and when you’re striving to do the right things, and everyone believes they’re the right things, you know it’s not far away. In the last couple of games, we’ve managed to do a couple of little bits a little bit better, and we’ve been on the other end of those results.
Q: As you mentioned, knock-out rugby is a bit different. Does that mean any change in game plan, such as shots at goal being taken rather than penalties being kicked to the corner?
SV: It will be very much down to the game scenario, and how that’s playing, but ultimately you just need to win. There are no bonus points or anything like that, but we’re just focusing on giving ourselves the best chance of winning because being one point up at the end of the game is all that matters.
Q: Are you and the rest of the coaches enjoying some of the nice selection dilemmas ahead of the game?
SV: Having a healthy squad, or as healthy as you can hope for, is a good thing and it creates competition among the boys. That competition drives people to put in that extra one per cent here and there, and it makes you a stronger outfit on the whole, whether they’re playing in the Mobbs game or the Gloucester game. There are opportunities for people and when people feel that way, where they’ve got a route to the first team or a route to get that starting jersey, it’s really important to have that in your squad.
Q: This may seem like a silly question, but how seriously are Saints taking the European Challenge Cup?
SV: To be in the last 16 of a competition is a massive opportunity to go and win it so, yes, we’re going for it. The bodies are tired, but the last thing you need is a bitty schedule of a game here, then two weeks off – it just doesn’t do anyone any good. You just want to keep the momentum going and I think it would be great for us to get a bit of momentum going into the back end of the year in both competitions.
Q: It was announced last week that Ahsee Tuala, Piers Francis, Taqele Naiyaravoro and Api Ratuniyarawa will be leaving the Club at the end of the season. How important is to end their time with us on a high?
SV: They’re people who have given some of the best years of their life to play for Northampton and, with Boydy [Chris Boyd] also leaving at the end of the year, it would be a great way to send those boys off, give them something to be really proud of. That’s the top of our mindset – we all want to win silverware, and this would be a great year to do it.