Sam Vesty insists that with Northampton Saints creating so many opportunities to score, the composure to finish them off was the missing piece of the puzzle in Sunday’s defeat at Harlequins.
The men in Black, Green and Gold attacked with intent and accuracy during the first half of the clash, with Tom Collins and Tom James finishing off two superb Saints moves where everything clicked with the ball in hand.
However, despite playing with 65% possession, 68% territory and against a 13-man defence for a period, Ollie Sleightholme’s mesmerising breakaway score was the only try of the second half for Northampton – who went down 37-19 after a late Quins touchdown put some gloss on the scoreline.
As in the game against Bath the week beforehand, creating chances was not the problem – George Furbank, Fraser Dingwall and Taqele Naiyaravoro, among others, all came within a whisker of scoring the crucial try that could have propelled Saints on to a comeback win in south-west London.
But while ruthlessness in their execution inside the 22 – particularly when Quins were down to 13 men – was an obvious work-on for Vesty, Northampton’s attack coach believes the vast number of chances created should give the squad cause for optimism.
“We’re in a position where we are not scoring when we should, but we are creating,” he said. “It’s a much better place to be, when you’re creating opportunities and finding ways of not scoring them – which it feels like we’re doing at the moment – than actually struggling to create.
“It will come, 100% it will come.”Sam Vesty, Attack Coach
“Unfortunately, we weren’t good enough in that period [against 13 players], full stop. We created opportunities that we didn’t put away and that hurts you in the end. It’s a tough competition and you have to take your chances. When they were down to 13, we went away from what we are good at.
“In rugby you have to go forward. We played too laterally and passed too early, rather than making the ball go forward. We needed to force them to make tackles in the middle and suddenly you’ve got space on the edges.
“We passed the ball to space too early and allowed them to drift off. When they’re lacking numbers that’s exactly what they want you to do.
“So, we lost a bit of composure. The guys knew what we wanted to achieve and just didn’t execute that, and that’s the really frustrating thing.
“We know how we want to play in that situation, and it doesn’t look like that. Everyone in the dressing room is disappointed because that’s another one that got away.”
Fraser Dingwall impressed on his return to the starting XV for the first time since Boxing Day, providing all three try assists for Northampton at Twickenham Stoop.
The centre also made 69 metres and three clean breaks from his 12 carries during the contest, beating five defenders and completing an offload along the way.
“I thought Dingers was excellent,” added Vesty. “He runs those short balls so well and makes yards on those inside lines.
“He plays the game going forward; we talk a lot about north-south, and he plays that game really well. We’re chuffed for him.”
There’s no respite for Saints this week with a six-day turnaround ahead of Sale Sharks’ visit to Franklin’s Gardens on Saturday (13 March, kick-off: 2.45pm).
And if Northampton can take the periods of dominance they have enjoyed against both Bath and Harlequins and build them into an 80-minute display, Vesty is adamant Saints’ winning form will return.
He said: “We need to play well, and play well for 80 minutes. At the moment we’re playing well for periods of time and those periods are too short at the moment to win games.
“We need to turn that around. If we put in the performance against Sale that I know we can, then I have no doubts we’ll win the game.”