The Saints squad which headed to Twickenham had nine players aged 20 or under, including three Under-17s. And while their inexperience was clear in the first match against a Buenos Aires outfit who came to London intent on causing a few surprises, the Saints fought back in Round 2 against San Francisco Golden Gate.
Indeed only Carlin Isles’ famed pace proved to be the difference as the Americans secured a late win, Tom Collins and Ollie Lyons – one of the aforementioned Junior Saints Academy players – bringing their team back to 12-all in the second half.
Lyons also crossed in the day’s final match against the Blue Bulls, with a Tom Stephenson try and Mallinder conversion giving the Saints a 12-0 half-time lead. Carlo Engelbrecht pulled a try back for the Bulls, but a second try from Stephenson sealed a 17-7 win.
Diggin was proud of how the team increased their performances during the day, culminating in that win over the South African province.
“We can’t get away from the fact that we’ve got a team full of kids and an old fella,” Diggin said. “A couple of the lads are still 17 and haven’t experienced this level of rugby before. They’ve come in and shown what talent we’ve got coming through at Northampton.
“This is the world stage and there’s been a lot of pressure and expectation put on them. Maybe the firs t game they didn’t realise what they were coming up against, but they did brilliantly to turn it around in the second game.”
Several Junior Saints have been training with the senior squad this summer, with Mallinder playing in the first team pre-season friendly at Bedford. And Diggin, who is going into his testimonial year in 2013/14, has been impressed by how they’ve come on.
“I think they’ve done fantastically,” he added. “I had the pleasure of working with them last season and saw the potential that they had. Now it’s starting to blossom. Harry’s doing well at the moment, as has Jacob Conner, and Ollie Lyons came in for us today and done a good job.
“The more players that we can get exposed to this sort of arena and this sort of pressure, it can only mean good things for Northampton Saints. Today they’ve come up against different styles of player, different cultures. The younger they are when they get this sort of opportunity, the less they’ll be fazed when they come into the senior squad.
“I was a little bit star-struck when I first joined the Saints, because you’re playing with these brilliant internationals. And then to rub shoulders with them, it brings out the best in the young lads.”
The Saints may be out of the Cup competition, but they will still have at least two matches in Day 2 in the Shield. The action starts at 11:30am and tickets will be available on the gate.
In the meantime you can see the best of the first day's action in THIS PHOTO GALLERY on the club's official Facebook page.
Danny Hobbs-Awoyemi, Ollie Lyons, Paul Diggin, Alex Day, Harry Mallinder, Jacob Conner, Sam Harry, Harry Betts, Ryan Glynn, Tom Collins, Vasily Artemyev, Tom Stephenson
DAY ONE RESULTS
Saints 0-30 Buenos Aires
Saints 12-19 San Francisco Golden Gate
Saints 17-7 Blue Bulls