We sat down with Head Coach, Sam Vesty, ahead of Northampton Saints’ Gallagher Premiership match against Newcastle Falcons this weekend…Q: We’ll start by looking back on last Sunday’s 40-36 victory at Wasps, how exactly did Northampton Saints manage to win that game? SV: We showed a boatload of resolve, a boatload of never-say-die attitude and that’s a massive positive to take out of that game. There were plenty of things for us to work on and get better at – I thought in the first half we lost the territory battle and ended up playing in our own half too much. That always puts you under pressure, but to take the positives out of it, fair play to come back from where we were.Q: Just how big was it to get a win after being on the wrong end of some tight finishes in previous weeks? SV: Obviously, it’s what you want. Ultimately, we’ve played quite well over the course of the season so far. Even though there is plenty for us to get better at, we’ve performed OK, and if we keep performing well and perform for longer periods of time, then by the end of the year we’ll be a good, healthy place, and that’s when the points really do count. Q: Obviously, the circumstances surrounding Fin Smith’s immediate arrival from Worcester Warriors are not ideal, but how happy are you to sign such a promising young fly-half for the long term? SV: Fin’s a cracking young fly-half. I’m really looking forward to working with him and seeing where his game goes, and how he fits in with the Club as well with the group of fly-halves we already have in Dan Biggar, James Grayson and Matthew Arden. We do lots of due diligence on the players we get, we watch a lot of footage, we try and do a bit of a deep dive into them on and off the pitch. That involves speaking to people and getting character references, and all of that. He ticks a lot of boxes off the field and has a lot of talent on the field.
Q: Does he also provide some extra cover at fly-half for when Dan Biggar is on international duty? SV: He does, and it will be a really good scrap for that No.10 jersey and who will play the majority of the games. It will be really interesting and I hope that those boys all push each other, as we want in all of our positions, to have that competition for a place and competition for a start to get the best out of each of our individuals.
Q: Speaking of Biggs, he had to come off at Wasps, can you give us an update on how he is? SV: He’s got a knee injury and he’s going to be out for a number of weeks. Fin is not actually fit just yet either – he is coming back from a jaw injury, but we’re looking forward to getting him involved sooner rather than later. Jimmy got through some work in the Cup during the week but we got him off nice and early knowing that he would be involved this weekend, and he’ll be looking to lay down a marker for sure.
Q: Is there also any news on Courtney Lawes’ recovery from the head injury he picked up against Leicester? SV: He’s progressing through the GRTP (Graduated Return to Play) and he’s progressing positively. He’s not in full contact training yet, but he is running.
Q: Looking at the Premiership Rugby Cup games against Saracens and Harlequins, how pleased were you with how those went? SV: The boys who were involved have really put their hands up. There is real competition for places in all of the squad to play and people have come through from the PRC to play in the first team. They know there is a pathway there and whilst there is that competition, people will keep pushing and pushing and pushing in training. I thought the boys were good and got a couple of good wins.
Q: How much has it done for some of the younger players who were involved in those games? SV: The young lads have done excellently. George Patten, just off the top of my head, is a guy who, a couple of years ago, I was watching play at fly-half alongside my son at school. Last week he got his first senior scrum penalty against Harlequins! That guy has done very well and shown his character. I was very impressed with that.
Leicester Tigers head coach, Dan McKellar said: “The group, players and staff were on the go for 23 weeks straight so getting away from the game for a period was really beneficial and we’ve come back in enthused for this challenge this week.
“Ealing are a team full of experience and quality, so we’ll have to be at our best to get the result we want, on a big day for the likes of Hanro and Finn.
“It’s fitting that Hanro leads us on his 100th game. He carried a lot of the leadership burden during the World Cup and continues to be someone the boys can count on to lead with his actions.”
Scott MacLeod is returning to Newcastle Falcons as line-out coach, with the former Scotland lock on board until at least the end of the season.
The Hawick native spent 11 years with the Falcons, making 61 appearances as a player before joining the coaching team in 2016.
Having departed Kingston Park last summer MacLeod will now return to impart his expertise, combining coaching commitments with working for his family’s business in the Scottish Borders.
Newcastle Falcons’ consultant director of rugby Steve Diamond said: “Scott is a well-respected line-out specialist who can help us make some big gains in that area between now and the end of the season.
“He knows and loves the club, he’s very well regarded here and I’m looking forward to getting him back involved.
“We’ve initially said it’s until the end of the season and I know Scott has other business commitments, but if it works well for both parties over the next few months then we’ll be happy to look at extending it beyond that.”
Capped 24 times by Scotland in a playing career which also saw him starring for Border Reivers, Edinburgh, Scarlets, Kobelco Steelers and Newcastle, the set-piece specialist is relishing the prospect of reinvigorating the Falcons’ line-out during the remainder of the season.
MacLeod said: “Our line-out has consistently been in the top four of the Premiership over the past few years, so hopefully I can come in and help get us back up there.
“I’ve been watching the games from afar this season because Newcastle Falcons is still a big part of my life, even though I’ve not been personally involved since the summer. I just want to come in and make a positive difference, get us back to where we should be and help the boys.”
Having spent more than a decade at Kingston Park as a player and coach, MacLeod insisted the opportunity to return was just too good to pass up.
“I’ve missed the place a lot,” said the 44-year-old.
“I’m now working for my family’s business, MacLeod Glass, up in Hawick, but I’m sure any sportsperson will tell you they miss being in and around that team environment. It’s certainly very different going from a Premiership rugby club to working in a factory every day, and it’s been a shock to the system.
“I’ll now get to combine both, and I’ve missed being involved with the professional game. I’ve been coaching my son’s S2 side to get my rugby fix, but I’m buzzing to be back with the Falcons. It’s a really special club for me.”
Setting out with one clear aim, the Scot said: “I just want us to get our identity back.
“I’ll come in, assess our strengths and our weaknesses and come up with a plan accordingly. I know some of the players really well and I don’t know others at all, but luckily with us having this big break before our next game it’s absolutely ideal timing for getting things in place.
“One thing you have to bear in mind with Newcastle is how bad the weather is, in terms of how much you can push it in the line-out, but I just want to get the confidence back into the boys.
“It’s about simple things being done well on a consistent basis, and I’m starting this week to help put it in motion.
“I’ve got a few weeks to get to know the guys I’ve not worked with before, see how it all ties in with the lads I already know and then knit it all together into a game plan which works best for the team.
“As I say, I just want us to have that Newcastle Falcons identity again when it comes to the line-out, and I’m really positive about things. We’ll see how it works between now and the end of the season, and if everyone’s happy then we can see where it goes.”
Newcastle Falcons’ next home game is against Leicester Tigers on Good Friday (March 29), with tickets on sale for the 7.45pm kick-off by clicking here.