Boyd re­vives Saints by build­ing be­lief

Coach is earn­ing re­spect from play­ers by blend­ing youth and ex­pe­ri­ence, writes Ben Coles

The Sunday Telegraph - Sport - - Rugby Union -

Half­way through the Gallagher Premier­ship sea­son and Chris Boyd’s mes­sage ap­pears to be sink­ing in at Northamp­ton, who face strug­gling Wasps in Coventry to­day. Re­cruit­ing coaches from New Zealand has been no guar­an­tee of suc­cess; take ill-fated stints for Mike Brewer at Sale Sharks and Tom Coventry at London Ir­ish.

Boyd ar­rived last year with a far stronger pedi­gree, hav­ing coached the Hur­ri­canes to the 2016 Su­per Rugby ti­tle along­side the re­spected John Plumtree. Com­ing from Welling­ton, hav­ing coached a bevy of All Blacks in­clud­ing Beau­den and Jordie Bar­rett, Boyd has been tasked with lift­ing Northamp­ton back into the top six at the very least.

The early signs have been en­cour­ag­ing rather than as­tound­ing. The Saints are marginally mak­ing more me­tres and clean breaks, and beat­ing more de­fend­ers on av­er­age, than last sea­son. Their de­fence has also im­proved, missing fewer tack­les and win­ning more turnovers.

How­ever, fol­low­ing wins over Worces­ter War­riors and Ex­eter Chiefs, the penny ap­pears to have dropped, with Northamp­ton mov­ing up to sixth in the ta­ble ahead of the weekend.

“The big­gest im­prove­ment has prob­a­bly been the abil­ity and con­fi­dence he has given us to play in terms of our at­tack,” says full-back Ah­see Tuala. “With new play­ers and new coaches com­ing in, the boys have adapted pretty well. It will take a bit of time, but we are head­ing in the right di­rec­tion. Chris has shown con­fi­dence in bring­ing through the younger play­ers into the first team.”

One of that youthful con­tin­gent is flanker Lewis Lud­lam, let go by Northamp­ton at the age of 15 due to his lack of size be­fore re­join­ing the club two years later.

Loan spells with Coventry and Rother­ham fol­lowed – “there is no point sit­ting around at the club train­ing and pre­par­ing the first XV all year round,” notes Lud­lam – be­fore the 23-year-old broke through into the first team. Out of the squad selected by Northamp­ton to face Wasps, nine are aged 24 or younger, in­clud­ing im­pres­sive Eng­land Un­der-20 cen­tre Fraser Ding­wall.

Northamp­ton have fared well re­cently in the trans­fer mar­ket by re­cruit­ing Cobus Reinach and Dan Big­gar at half-back, but Boyd’s in­cli­na­tion to show faith in the club’s academy is ad­mirable, with the play­ers re­spond­ing in kind. “Fair play to Boydy,” Lud­lam adds. “He has given young lads op­por­tu­ni­ties, which has been re­ally en­cour­ag­ing.

“A mas­sive thank you to the coaches for giving me the chance and the con­fi­dence to play. If you had told me at the start of the sea­son that I would have been in this po­si­tion, I am not sure I would have be­lieved you.”

Re­gard­ing Ding­wall’s cameo against Ex­eter, as­sis­tant coach Alan Dick­ens said: “Fraser has slot­ted in bril­liantly this year. Chris [Boyd] has dripped him into the squad. Ex­eter try to pull you out of your shape by drift­ing wide, and Fraser made 18 tack­les. He is an old head on young shoul­ders.”

Ding­wall will be in line for a longer run in the first team fol­low­ing a dis­lo­cated shoul­der for Piers Fran­cis, start­ing when Northamp­ton face Wasps, with Dai Young’s out­fit reel­ing from one win in their last 13 matches. Saints will also pitch up af­ter the high of de­feat­ing the league lead­ers Ex­eter, hav­ing scored four tries de­spite their lim­ited chances. Franklin’s Gar­dens has rarely been louder.

“It was the most ex­cit­ing at­mos­phere I have played in,” Lud­lam says. “It topped play­ing at Twick­en­ham over the last cou­ple of years. I can­not stress how much that en­ergy boost from the crowd is ap­pre­ci­ated. Those small per­cent­ages push you on to win those close games.”

Small per­cent­ages and hav­ing a scrum-half such as Reinach in blis­ter­ing form. The Spring­bok has pro­duced long-range in­ter­cep­tion tries in Northamp­ton’s past two wins, send­ing a re­minder of his ta­lent to South Africa head coach Rassie Eras­mus ahead of the World Cup.

“That guy, he is some­thing spe­cial,” en­thuses Tuala. “He gets bet­ter ev­ery game.” More of Reinach’s magic will serve Northamp­ton well in Coventry, as they aim to buck the trend of in­con­sis­tency that has led to so many teams be­ing sep­a­rated by so few points in the Premier­ship this sea­son.

Break­through: Piers Fran­cis sprints clear to put Northamp­ton ahead in the win over Ex­eter (above), as coach Chris Boyd (be­low) makes his mark

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