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Phil Dowson using big game experience to beat Bath Rugby

Northampton Saints Director of Rugby Phil Dowson believes his side’s experiences in big games this season will steer them to victory over Bath in Saturday’s Premiership final.

The Saints have already played in two major semi-finals this season. They fell agonisingly short against Leinster at Croke Park, however they went one better last weekend as they downed Saracens. Dowson’s side have already played at Twickenham too this year in their game against Harlequins.

Speaking to the media ahead of the showpiece event, Dowson said: “We’ve had the experience at playing at Twickenham against Quins, where we didn’t get it quite right. Then, we’ve also had experience of playing against Leinster at Croke Park and playing Saracens here; we’ve had that experience of pressure knockout games which should stand in good stead.”

The win over the defending champions secured Northampton’s spot in the final for the first time since 2014; a game in which Phil Dowson himself played in.

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The former second-rower was a part of the squad that reached two back-to-back finals in 2013 and 2014. He started in their 37-17 loss to Leicester Tigers, however he atoned for this a year later as he came off the bench in Northampton’s 24-20.

“It’s the first time I’ve been in one from a Director of Rugby point of view. I’ve won one and lost one as a player.”

“I think there’s clearly elements of our game we need to get right in relation to Bath; but there’s also the fact you’re playing in the final and how you manage that anticipation and nervousness, and that’s all a part of it and it’s something we’ve talked about.”

Phil Dowson on playing in front of big crowds

Phil Dowson-Credit: IMAGO

After such a brilliant regular season, there is already a huge buzz surrounding the final.

Northampton and Bath finished first and second in the table respectively, and have also sold out their ticket allocations. This also comes on top of bumper general admission ticket sales, meaning the final has sold out for the first time since 2015.

“Bath are a very well supported club,” said Phil Dowson. “And at Northampton, we’re very lucky to have a really, really fanatical support base; so from what I gather, it’s sold out. That’s really the thing that you’re really focused on.

He added: “The fact that they’re well supported and the fact that they’ve got world class players, they’re the things we want to challenge ourselves against.”

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Whilst a sell-out crowd at Twickenham is a huge thing to prepare for, Dowson again detailed his side have experience playing in these sorts of events.

Their semi-final against Leinster saw 82,000 fans in attendance, and their last visit to Twickenham also saw a crowd of over 50,000.

“The Leinster experience was great you’d love to have it again, to be honest. You’d love to take that back and with the lessons you learn from that game. Leinster prepared incredibly well for us, as Bath will be this week.”

“It’s how we manage that, how we manage that expectation, and the nerves of that, and they’ll be the same as well. Buit it’s how we manage that pressure really.”

Dowson on ‘box office’ half-backs Finn Russell and Ben Spencer

Dowson might be counting on big game experience to thwart Bath this weekend, but Bath also have big game players themselves in the form of Finn Russell and Ben Spencer.

Russell joined Bath ahead of this season, and has been a key man in their journey to the final alongside half-back partner Spencer. The pair have also had glittering careers prior to their moves at Bath, with Russell playing in a Champions Cup final with Racing 92, and Spencer also winning four Premiership finals with Saracens, on top of three Champions Cup titles.

Commenting on the deadly duo, Dowson said: “Finn Russell is clearly a key factor, but Ben Spencer has been absolutely outstanding this season too. Maybe because Finn Russell is such a big character and such a big name that Spencer may have gone under the radar a little bit but he’s been outstanding in terms of leading that group and playing it very well.”

Whilst the half-back pair are clearly at the forefront of his mind, Dowson was quick to point out Bath have threats all over the park.

“They’ve got a big power game and a very strong set piece. In attack, they’ve also got great runners and then those two in the middle of that pulling the strings.”

Johann van Graan’s side come into the game in decent form, with four wins from their past five games; including their 43-12 win over the Saints on the final day of the regular season.

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