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George Furbank emphasises ‘player-led’ approach as key to Saints’ rise to the top

Northampton Saints fullback George Furbank says adopting a more ‘player-led’ approach has helped his team become more successful this season. 

Phil Dowson’s side have been firing on all cylinders this season. Their brand of fast-paced attacking rugby has seen them blow teams like Saracens, Exeter Chiefs and most recently the Bulls out of the park; but England international Furbank feels their dramatic change in fortunes can be attributed to the players taking on more of the leadership responsibilities rather than being “spoon-fed”.

Speaking to the media today, George Furbank detailed a meeting in pre-season the shift to this new mentality: “We had a big onus at the start of the season on this group becoming a little bit more player-led. We thought we were probably spoon-fed a little bit too much, which then come game days you can often rely on coaches and that’s not what you need because they’re not on the pitch.

He added: “We’ve taken a bit more of this on ourselves, we’ve probably become a bit more pragmatic as a backline as well with our game understanding and our game management.”

George Furbank vs Bayonne-Credit: IMAGO

Last season, the Saints sneaked into the play-offs, however they were well beaten by Saracens in the semi-final. That game in particular proved that they weren’t fully ready to compete at the highest level in the domestic game; however Furbank revealed the changes this ‘player-led’ approach made them do in order to be where they are now.

“We had a discussion right at the start of pre-season that we felt, particularly in tight games or slow-start games, that we weren’t then able to come away on the right end of the result of that, and that there was a reason for that,” said Furbank.

He added: “We just wanted to take a bit more. That’s in terms of watching training, more feedback into the coaches about what we want out of training, and then little chats between each other as to where we can improve; or little nuances in our game that we think we can change. It’s allowed us as a team to be a bit more pragmatic and manage games.”

You need big voices in the changing room for this approach to work; but luckily Northampton are blessed with leaders. Courtney Lawes has captained both club and country during his career and Lewis Ludlam is another born leader too, but Furbank detailed one person in particular as the main driver.

“The guy who mainly does it is probably Fin (Smith). I’ve taken a bit on myself. There’s definitely a few boys who’ve stepped up in that space.”

Saints boss Phil Dowson on this new ‘player-led’ approach

Saints Director of Rugby Phil Dowson-Credit: IMAGO

Furbank isn’t the only person who is happy with this new approach. Director of Rugby Phil Dowson mirrored the claims of his star back, saying it was ‘a good conversation’.

“I think we talked about it as a playing group and a coaching group and said ‘what do we need to do to take that next step’. We felt that evolution was to get the players to drive the whole thing. It’s their club, it’s their team. We had a good conversation that day.”

Whatever they discussed that day is clearly working. The Saints are currently at the top of the Premiership and are 80 minutes away from a Champions Cup final. Can they complete a famous double?