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Vesty thrilled by competition for places across Saints’ squad

We sat down with Head Coach, Sam Vesty, ahead of Northampton Saints’ Gallagher Premiership match against Newcastle Falcons this weekend…

Q: We’ll start by looking back on last Sunday’s 40-36 victory at Wasps, how exactly did Northampton Saints manage to win that game? 
SV: We showed a boatload of resolve, a boatload of never-say-die attitude and that’s a massive positive to take out of that game. There were plenty of things for us to work on and get better at – I thought in the first half we lost the territory battle and ended up playing in our own half too much. That always puts you under pressure, but to take the positives out of it, fair play to come back from where we were.

Q: Just how big was it to get a win after being on the wrong end of some tight finishes in previous weeks? 
SV: Obviously, it’s what you want. Ultimately, we’ve played quite well over the course of the season so far. Even though there is plenty for us to get better at, we’ve performed OK, and if we keep performing well and perform for longer periods of time, then by the end of the year we’ll be a good, healthy place, and that’s when the points really do count. 

Q: Obviously, the circumstances surrounding Fin Smith’s immediate arrival from Worcester Warriors are not ideal, but how happy are you to sign such a promising young fly-half for the long term? 
SV: Fin’s a cracking young fly-half. I’m really looking forward to working with him and seeing where his game goes, and how he fits in with the Club as well with the group of fly-halves we already have in Dan Biggar, James Grayson and Matthew Arden. We do lots of due diligence on the players we get, we watch a lot of footage, we try and do a bit of a deep dive into them on and off the pitch. That involves speaking to people and getting character references, and all of that. He ticks a lot of boxes off the field and has a lot of talent on the field.

Q: Does he also provide some extra cover at fly-half for when Dan Biggar is on international duty? 
SV: He does, and it will be a really good scrap for that No.10 jersey and who will play the majority of the games. It will be really interesting and I hope that those boys all push each other, as we want in all of our positions, to have that competition for a place and competition for a start to get the best out of each of our individuals. 

Q: Speaking of Biggs, he had to come off at Wasps, can you give us an update on how he is? 
SV: He’s got a knee injury and he’s going to be out for a number of weeks. Fin is not actually fit just yet either – he is coming back from a jaw injury, but we’re looking forward to getting him involved sooner rather than later. Jimmy got through some work in the Cup during the week but we got him off nice and early knowing that he would be involved this weekend, and he’ll be looking to lay down a marker for sure.

Q: Is there also any news on Courtney Lawes’ recovery from the head injury he picked up against Leicester? 
SV: He’s progressing through the GRTP (Graduated Return to Play) and he’s progressing positively. He’s not in full contact training yet, but he is running. 

Q: Looking at the Premiership Rugby Cup games against Saracens and Harlequins, how pleased were you with how those went? 
SV: The boys who were involved have really put their hands up. There is real competition for places in all of the squad to play and people have come through from the PRC to play in the first team. They know there is a pathway there and whilst there is that competition, people will keep pushing and pushing and pushing in training. I thought the boys were good and got a couple of good wins. 

Q: How much has it done for some of the younger players who were involved in those games? 
The young lads have done excellently. George Patten, just off the top of my head, is a guy who, a couple of years ago, I was watching play at fly-half alongside my son at school. Last week he got his first senior scrum penalty against Harlequins! That guy has done very well and shown his character. I was very impressed with that.

Q: Let’s look ahead to Saturday’s game against Newcastle Falcons, are you looking for Saints to gain a greater level of control than what they were able to at Wasps? 
SV: Ultimately, we always want to spend as much of the game in their half, with the ball, as possible. I think we didn’t quite nail that against Wasps for long enough periods of time and then, when we have spent time with the ball in the opposition’s half, we’ve been very good and scored lots of tries and managed to put teams under pressure. Fundamentally, it comes down to doing the basics really well, such us getting out of our half really well and turning the game over, so we’re moving up the field and spending more time with the ball in the opposition half. 

Q: What do you expect from Newcastle during the game? 
SV: I expect them to be just a really good rugby team, who fight for absolutely every inch of everything in the scrum, in the tackle. They’ll fight for it and I think that’s the big part of the game this weekend. We’ve got to be winning as many of those inches as we possibly can. That will be a big part of the battle and that physical collision part of it will be where the game is won and lost. 

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