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Vesty: Saints not celebrating anything...yet

It is now known that tomorrow’s Derby Day Double fixture against Leicester Tigers will not mark the end of Northampton Saints’ season, and head coach Sam Vesty feels this has given the game more meaning.

Saints have qualified for the Gallagher Premiership semi-finals for a second season running after their thumping 66-5 victory at Newcastle Falcons last Friday night was followed by Saracens’ defeat of London Irish.

That meant the Exiles, the last remaining team able to overhaul the men in Black, Green and Gold in the table, can no longer do so.

As a result, Saints can afford to relax during the final day of the regular season next Saturday – their bye week – ahead of preparing for their semi-final match.

That is almost certain to be against Saracens at the StoneX Stadium, which brings back memories of when the two teams met at the same venue in the play-off stage ten years ago, a memorable 27-13 win for Saints.

The match against Leicester, therefore, is now a chance for players to keep themselves in-tune and more than an opportunity for supporters to say farewell to players departing at the end of the campaign.

Vesty said: “I think that clarity about having a game to work towards is great for us as a squad and it will make the game even more worthwhile and special as well.

“It will be worthwhile for us as a squad to keep us moving forward, in terms of playing really good rugby, but also it means we’re still in the hunt and we want to thank these people that have been at the Club for such a long time.”

Sam Vesty

“We want to thank the fans as well and say goodbye to the Gardens for another year before we then get into having a cracking game against Saracens – we presume it will be against Saracens – and hopefully one step further than that as well.”

The clash against the Tigers will be the final home game for the departing David Ribbans, Tom Collins and Courtnall Skosan, and the retiring Mike Haywood, as well as several others.

It is perhaps fitting that the Gardens farewell for homegrown players Haywood and Collins should come against Saints’ biggest rivals, having gone through so many battles against them down the years.

Vesty, who played for the other side for eight years, said: “It will be emotional. It’s tough because we’ve spent so much time together with these guys.

“It’s always nice to have had these shared experiences and at times people leave it’s always hard, even though it’s good to see them moving on to the next part of their lives, in Mikey’s case, or in TC’s case to play rugby elsewhere.

“You wish them all the best and they will get an excellent reception, but it is tough as well.”

Collins scored two of Saints’ ten tries as they put themselves in prime position to qualify for the semi-finals by recording just their second away win of the season in emphatic fashion.

Vesty admits Newcastle’s performance dropped off once the result at Kingston Park had been settled, but he was also pleased to see the squad show a ruthless streak they perhaps haven’t displayed enough during the campaign.

He said: “We talked about doing what we do really well and trying to put the best of us out there on the pitch.

“We just kept getting off the line in defence and smothered them really well, gave them no time on the ball and kept the tempo really high, really physical, and when we had the ball, they probably gave us a bit too much time.

“I thought we were excellent and obviously pretty clinical as well.”

Sam Vesty

Saints’ players and staff then had to wait until Sunday afternoon to see whether the race for the play-offs would go down to the wire when in-form London Irish travelled to would-be semi-final opponents Saracens.

A strong start by the Exiles would have had everyone associated with the Club nervous for a time, but Sarries sealed Saints’ top four place for them by coming back to win 45-21.

You often hear of people trying to avoid watching their rivals in action at the business end of the season, but Vesty admits to not being able to help himself.

“I was trying not to [watch the game],” Vesty said. “I was cooking Sunday lunch and sort of had my eye on it in the background.

“I kept looking over and the first 20 minutes I thought London Irish fired everything they had at Saracens and actually looked very good.

“Sarries didn’t look to be quite at the races and then suddenly after 20 minutes Saracens really came back into it and were the formidable Saracens you expect to see.

“This is such a tough competition and week in, week out anyone can beat anyone, so to get into the play-offs two years on the trot is very good, but we’ve got our sights set on going at least one step further than last time, hopefully two.

“We’re not celebrating anything yet.”

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