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How defence has unlocked Northampton Saints title-winning potential

Much has been made of the Northampton Saints attack this season, however it’s been their defensive efforts that have allowed them to climb the Premiership table. 

Last season, the Saints finished on a points difference of 9 (yes, 9), despite being the best attacking side in the Premiership. They conceded the second-most amount of tries overall in the league, and also posted the second-highest total for points against (611) and average points against per game (31).

Fast forward a year, and the Saints have made massive improvements in this area. They have only conceded 453 points this season, and average only 25 points conceded a game.

But what has been the source of this defensive change? Saints and England centre Fraser Dingwall believes it lies with the introduction of new defence coach Lee Radford.

“I think the biggest improvement has been in our defence this year, and that’s come through Lee Radford coming in. He just stripped it all down and added a good, simple philosophy that we’re going after.”

Dingwall added: “There’s the philosophy in terms of our defence and what we’re going after. It’s a lot simpler now, so boys are less stressed on the pitch and they’re going after their collisions a lot more. The second part of it is just the way you approach the whole defence outlook.

“The boys crave Radders’ respect. He used to play league and he used to whack people and just the way he is that means he gets some boys on side and people want to defend for him. Defence is something we get excited about now, it’s something we really value.”

Lewis Ludlam echoes praise for defensive changes at Northampton Saints

Credit: IMAGO

It’s not just Dingwall that is feeling the changes in defence this season, with flanker Lewis Ludlam also keen to highlight the defensive changes this season.

“Our defence has come a massively long way,” he said. “I think we’re winning more collisions, we’re containing more teams and as a result we’re conceding less points. We’ve developed our defence a massive amount, which allows us to stay in games.”

The Northampton Saints also ended the season with the highest number of tackles in the Premiership, with 2667 across the season.

Dingwall on how getting bigger has fuelled this change in mindset

Credit: IMAGO

Whilst Dingwall was full of praise for the new systems implemented by Radford; the Saints playing squad, and the back’s in particular, have put in the hard work off the pitch to enable them to be more physical.

During the off-season, the Saints coaching staff put a huge emphasis on the players becoming bigger and stronger, rather than the traditional pre-season beastings. This involved a changed diet, increased time in the gym and less running meters too, and Dingwall believes this really has really helped their improvements in the contact area.

“I think it has helped a lot. As a backs group, I know we went really hard after it, and everyone did put on some more size. The improvements are twofold.

“I’m sure the added weight has made a difference,” he continued. “But there’s also the time and attention we’ve paid to it has just given boys a lot more confidence in terms of what they’re trying to do and the technique around being better in those physical tests.”

This also helps them in the tight areas, and particularly the set-piece. Northampton’s scrum has been one of their best weapons this season, and their line-out has also flourished, which Ludlam detailed.

“Our set-piece has been much more consistent,” said Ludlam. “Which allows us to go and play a game in the park and go and play attacking rugby consistently too.”

Ludlam added: “We’ve also found a way to win games when the game plan isn’t necessarily working.”

The Saints’ lineout in particular has been incredibly effective. Curtis Langdon and Sam Matavesi have combined to get a 96% accuracy at the lineout, with Alex Coles also ranking high for winning own lineouts.