Club co-captain Alex Waller is adamant that Northampton Saints’ recent form against their top-four rivals offers cause for optimism as the race for a semi-final spot heats up.
In the last month of action against the four sides above them in the table, Saints have beaten Exeter Chiefs and Sale Sharks, but have also lost in frustrating clashes to Harlequins and Bristol Bears.
Sunday’s reversal at the hands of the Bears was particularly gut-wrenching, with two tries in the final five minutes turning the match on its head and recording a 21-28 victory at Franklin’s Gardens.
It was a bittersweet day for Waller, who – by making his 206th Gallagher Premiership appearance in a Black, Green and Gold jersey – broke out-half Stephen Myler’s Club record in the league.
The 31-year-old loosehead could not hide his disappointment following the late drama, but Waller insists Saints must focus on the positives after controlling large periods of the game against the league’s form side.
And Waller, believes that the form book is promising as Northampton enter the business end of their Premiership campaign.
“The loss was just disappointing as a whole,” he said. “But I’m proud of the boys for getting back into the game – to come back from behind, get back in front and look pretty comfortable at times against the top side in the league.
“I don’t think they stressed us massively, they just capitalised on a few errors from us and that’s going to be the challenge moving forward now, keeping them down to a minimum and closing out games when we’re in that position.
“In defence I thought we were comfortable, set-piece as well, but Bristol are such a good team that when you make that mistake they capitalise, so credit to them. If they won the game by 30 or 40 points, it strangely might be easier to take, but losing in that last five minutes is tough.
“The bigger picture is good, we are feeling pretty positive.”Alex Waller
“We have played all of the top four, came away with pretty good wins against Exeter and Sale, obviously a couple of slip-ups against Quins and Bristol, but there are plenty of positives to take from the last few weeks.
“We’re moving in the right direction that’s for sure, and we just need to tie it all together. It will come, I’m really proud of the boys and pleased with the way we’re working, it’s just putting that together for the full 80.
“It will come and I’m sure we’re going to be in contention come the business end of the season. Two bounces of the ball cost us [on Sunday], absolute stinkers. There’s plenty to assess but it’s not all doom and gloom.”
Looking ahead to this weekend, Waller is relishing a trip to Sixways that is likely to turn into another family affair.
Any clash with Worcester Warriors brings with it a potential reunion with younger brother, Ethan, the former Saints front row.
“The thing about high performance sport and elite rugby is that we don’t have a lot of time to dwell on the loss to Bristol,” Waller added. “We’ve got a short turnaround now onto Worcester. Hopefully we’ll learn the lessons and get back on track.
“I’ll catch up with the younger brother and see him after for a beer I’m sure. There will be no love lost in the game at all, we’ll reconvene after the 80 but will find each other in the game for a little hello.
“There probably won’t be that much chat rugby wise during the week, maybe we will just a touch base.
“We’re both pretty on it in our profession now and experienced at doing this. It’s just another day at the office and then we’ll be brothers again afterwards.”