The new coaching consultant at Franklins Gardens Alan Gaffney revealed that it was England boss Eddie Jones who advised him to take on the job of salvaging the Saints’ season.
The 71-year-old Australian was approached by the Saints board just before Christmas and arrived in time to watch the Wanderers win on New Year’s Eve.
He is a long-time friend of Jones and said: “I didn’t speak to him until a couple of days before Christmas. He told me he thought I should go for the role. I didn’t speak to him at length, he was going to Japan and then to Australia to see his daughter. If I wanted to get involved he highly recommended it and I always take Eddie’s advice!
“Eddie is probably a slightly harder task master than me but he has got results. He sets himself very high standards and I do too and that is what we have got to achieve. It’s not just the players. We are all in this together. We can’t just point the finger and say the players aren’t performing. We win together and we lose together. Eddie has always been that way as far as any side I have seen him involved with, I think you’ll find I’ll do the same.”
Gaffney has coached Munster, Leinster and Ireland and insists that Saints can still get something out of the season despite a run of 11 defeats at the time of his appointment.
“We’re aiming top four. That’s where we’re aiming and we are not contemplating anything else. It may be a big ask but if you win a couple of those games that are reasonably close all of a sudden and you are challenging top four. There is not a lot in it.
“I understand promotion and relegation and I am totally for it. It is a good system. A lot of people may not support it but I do and that is not an option for us,” he told reporters at his first press conference at the club.
He also backed Dylan Hartley who received harsh reviews in the national press after the defeat to Quins at Twickenham.
“Dylan has been a figurehead for a long period of time and he has got a lot of respect among the players. I haven’t spoken to Dylan, he had gone to England camp by the time I arrived. I spoke to Eddie and Eddie has got the utmost respect for Dylan and I don’t see things changing here. Northampton is his club, always has been his club and his heart lays here. I don’t see any changes being made there and I only see a positive.”
Since his appointment Gaffney has been catching up on videos of this season’s matches. He sees his role as supporting and advising the coaching that is already going on and is not planning a revolution.
“It’s really an assisting type role with alan Dickens, Dorian and Dowson. I’ve been round the block a few times. I will lend a bit of advice and consult with them as to where I think changes have got to be made. At the same time it has got to be a process between all of us with Alan being the head coach at the present time but also Dorian I have known for many years. That’s the process we will work on. Obviously its going to take me some time to work out where players are.
“I saw three or four games over the last little while but watching on television without the chance to watch things back, it’s been a more cursory look at the games. But now since I have been here in the last 48 hours I have a few more games on the computer and I can go through games and work out where players are at. We’ll work it out from there and I think it is all going to work out in a positive way.
“Obviously people are down and there is a lack of confidence and I think that is probably the primary problem. It is a pretty talented squad and probably should be achieving results better than they have done. Looking at the first four games when they played with momentum and on the front foot and with a lot of enthusiasm you cannot say that is the case in the last four games I have seen. There is a lack of confidence. There is probably a desire to play but they are not backing themselves to play.
“I did address the players very briefly yesterday and that was what I told them. I don’t think it is an ability issue. It is more one where we have got to say I’m going to go out and give this a crack and really have a go. Once that confidence comes back – I don’t think it will take long to do – there is going to be a few tweaks, little things here and there, that goes with the territory – but we have got to get back to having the confidence to play. I think once we have the confidence to play things will turn quickly.
“I’m not going to reinvent the wheel. Obviously they are halfway through the season and you can’t come in and change things overnight, change the way they play, it will be the minor adjustments in little things they are doing.
“There are only three things you can do with a rugby ball: you can either pass it, kick it, or run with it, there is nothing else you can do. If we make 80 per cent 90 percent of the right decisions about which the best option at any one point in time, that is putting players under a lot more pressure in making decisions – not taking the soft option, taking the hard option whatever that option may be, being a lot smarter in the way we play, I think we will get the results.
“It is probably good coming in in a fresh sense. I am not bedded down here. I am coming in with fresh eyes looking at it. I see positives, I don’t see negatives.”
Gaffney also affirmed his support for the coaches in place.
“I know them very well. I’ve coached Dicko, I’ve tried to get Dorian into Sarries going back over ten years but at that point in time his wife wouldn’t move out of Leicester and he came to Northampton and had success working with Jim.
“I have been here since Sunday and went to the Wanderers game on the weekend I was really happy with what the Wanderers did. They went and played and played with enthusiasm and what they did was good. They made mistakes – it wasn’t perfect by any stretch of the imagination – but it was good and it is the same coaches. It is the same people coaching that team. It’s a different level but it is still the same voices.
“I have got a lot of confidence. Dicko (Alan Dickens) has got an enormous amount of enthusiasm and always has had. Dorian to me – and I’ve heard certain things about it – I can only speak in the highest manner about what I’ve seen since I’ve been here since Sunday. I have spent a lot of time with him in the last 48 hours and he has got a lot to offer, obviously with winning competitions with Northampton and what he has done over a long period of time.
“You don’t become a bad coach overnight and I have got a lot of confidence in what’s there and to be truthful you know I have known Phil Dowson as a rugby player, but I didn’t know him as a person and what I have seen of him over the past 48 hours I think he is going to be an outstanding coach.
“There is only one way and it is forward. We have just got to get that confidence to play again. You look at the squad and it is a good squad. There are a few injuries but everyone has got injuries at this point in the year. You are not going to use that as an excuse but there is depth in the squad and we have just got to go out there and perform and back ourselves.”
Gaffney is looking for Saints to play without fear and build that on executing the basics well.
“I will be tough enough when I have to be. I am a skills orientated coach. I have always been. I have seen a lot of opportunities Northampton have created over the last couple of weeks but they haven’t been accurate enough to convert those opportunities into points. I think it is extremely important we work hard on that aspect of the game. We make sure our skill level is where it has to be to make sure we play the type of rugby that we want to play. I will be tough where I have to be but at the same time I will be very encouraging of the players to go out and play.
“I will not be expecting them to go out and run the ball every time they get it. We have got to keep taking the right options and if we have got to knock the ball in the corner to put pressure on the opposition then so be it. If it is not the right decision… you know players are making decisions in split seconds.
“We look at the video clip 14 times we still don’t know if it is the right decision or not. I respect the players. They have got to make those decisions quickly. They wont get it right all the time but neither will the coaches and we have got all the time in the world to look at clips and reviews and we still probably don’t get it right.”
Whatever the future holds Gaffney is pleased to be a part of the set up in Northampton now, particularly because of the fans and atmosphere at Franklin’s Gardens.
“My first time here I was at Leinster and we played here in 2000 – you were defending European Champions at that time – it was a very passionate crowd and an experience to be here. I have been here many times since. It is a fantastic place Northampton. It has been a great rugby club for many many years with some success. I am delighted to be here.”
Saints take on Gloucester at home on Saturday. Visit www.northamptonsaints.co.uk/ for details.