Alan Gaffney is insisting that Clermont’s Champions Cup visit to Franklins Gardens this evening is not a dead rubber because Saints have to get better.
Ironically if the season had been more ordinary there might be less of an edge about a European tie in which Saints have no chance of redeeming previous losses in the group.
But this is a team taking the first steps of recovery from a time of pain that was more than the sum of its defeats and there is no appetite for a backwards step now.
There was elation at beating Gloucester – the team which began Saints run of 11 games without a win – but, says Gaffney, there has been realism too.
“After Gloucester I went home like a good little person should. I let the players enjoy the night themselves and the players did have a good night. I know they totally behaved themselves and got back here on the Sunday and Monday and were doing hard work. We fully understand the fact that we weren’t good by any stretch of the imagination,” he said.
“We won the game that was a fantastic thing, not only for the players and the staff associated with it but particularly the supporters. To get the monkey off the back after a long period of time was a great result. For the players to do what they did, coming back from 19 to eight. It would have been easy to lie down. Particularly in view of what had happened in previous months but to come back and fight back and end up winning it at the death was a great result for the players and a great result for the club.”
The workshop for Saints recovery are the training pitches and Gaffney has been involving himself throughout the week.
“I am commenting. Alan Dickens is still running it and Dorian is still doing what Dorian does – and does well – and Dowse is still working very hard on the defence. I am making a number of suggestions in varying areas of the game where there is no doubt we have to get better. Our skill level still has to improve, our understanding of the game has to improve, we have got to get a better understanding of what we are trying to achieve and how we are trying to achieve it. We need full clarity on that at this point in time. In the main it is there but we have got to make sure everyone is on the same page.
“There have been French sides that don’t travel very well but Clermont are one of the sides that do take the Champions Cup really seriously. We are in for a massive challenge. They obviously want to win this game and finish top of the pool which is ok, they are sitting about five clear but we are going to make it very difficult for them. We are not going to lay down. It is not a dead rubber for us it is extremely important in the way we go from here.”
If keeping one eye on the mid to long term is part of Gaffney’s approach he will be cheered to hear that Tom Collins and Lewis Ludlam have signed new deals with Saints. Both products of the academy system and both notable for being among the few players to add to their reputation this season they are champing at the bit to be a part of restoring the club’s fortunes.
Tom has been out with a leg injury for six weeks but hopes to be back in training next week.
“Hopefully I’ll be back training next week. I’m just trying to get stronger and push on and get a spot back in the team, but obviously the lads are playing well and if we keep to winning ways it is going to be tough,” he said.
“It’s very difficult because while they’re out training I’ll be doing gym work and rehab. I try and watch bits back because training is recorded. I want to learn to what they are learning. You need to learn the new moves. I am still involved in it all.
“I’m awful, the physios will tell you I am constantly running around on my bad toe. I want to get out there in the next week or so. I was unfortunate to pick up such a silly knock. I got a toe injury and then we didn’t realise how bad it was until we had a scan on it. It is frustrating to be out. I think I have been out for six weeks. I want to keep pushing the lads and if I can get into the team and play the way I did at the start of the season I’ll go from there.”
Ludlam is in no doubt “the future is bright” at Saints but is desperate to get as much first team action as he can.
“Northampton Saints is a childhood club for me so playing here has almost been a dream and when you’re involved your confidence grows. They have slowly fed me in over the last few years which has been great for me. The more I play the more I’m going to develop and my confidence will grow and that is how I will get better as a player.
“As a young player I want to go out there and fit in but I have always been told you have got to stand out in every game you play. You don’t want to be one of the players on the pitch that takes a back seat, I want to attack the opportunity.”
|15 Ahsee Tuala
14 Ken Pisi
13 Rob Horne
12 Tom Stephenson
11 Ben Foden
10 Harry Mallinder
9 Nic Groom
1 Campese Ma’afu
|15 Isaiah Toeava
14 Nick Abendanon
13 Peter Betham
12 Rémi Lamerat
11 Remi Grosso
10 Luke McAlister
9 Morgan Parra (capt)
1 Etienne Falgoux
Current injuries: Tom Collins (foot), Alex Waller (arm), Jamie Elliott (hamstring), Rory Hutchinson (back), George North (knee), Piers Francis (concussion), Stephen Myler (ribs), and Luther Burrell (calf) are unavailable for selection.
For more details of fixtures and tickets go to www.northamptonsaints.co.uk