Former Saint Dowson relishing Franklin’s Gardens return

Phil Dowson will be back at Franklin's Gardens with Worcester on Saturday (picture: Kirsty Edmonds)

Phil Dowson will be back at Franklin's Gardens with Worcester on Saturday (picture: Kirsty Edmonds)

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Phil Dowson has already been back to Franklin’s Gardens to face his former club - but Saturday’s clash with Saints will be the real deal.

Dowson called time on his six-year stay at Northampton last summer, heading to Worcester on a two-year contract.

But he didn’t have to wait long to return to his old stomping ground, lining up in a behind-closed-doors friendly at the Gardens in October.

When he came off the pitch at half-time, the Warriors were 15-0 up, but they eventually went on to lose 33-27.

They got their revenge the following weekend, slaying Saints 13-12 with a last-gasp Tom Heathcote drop goal in the Aviva Premiership opener at Sixways.

Dowson was typically influential in that encounter, but this weekend he will start on the bench as the Warriors head to Northampton for a competitive fixture for the first time since winning promotion last season.

And the 34-year-old flanker, who made 186 appearances in a hugely successful spell at Saints, is relishing the challenge posed by a return to the Gardens.

“I am really looking forward to it,” Dowson said.

“During pre-season it was really odd going back so soon. It was slightly surreal.

“But this time because I’m much more firmly embedded at Worcester and have been there a lot longer, going back to Northampton is exciting.

“I’m seeing a lot of friends, a lot of people I know and I’m looking forward to a good game.”

While Dowson plays down his impact on the first-half super-show from the Warriors in pre-season, he is far happier to reflect on the Premiership game against Saints at Sixways.

“We had a lot of people playing their first Premiership game and there were all those doubts some of the younger lads had about playing at this level,” he said.

“We just had to go full on and there was a huge amount of emotion around that game because of that.

“Since then, every time we’ve played, it’s only been the London Irish game that we’ve not come out full of energy, full of fight.

“And that’s stood us in good stead.

“We’ve been in positions to win games and we haven’t won enough of them, but we’ve claimed a lot of losing bonus points and run a lot of good sides close.

“The next step on our journey is to start winning those matches.

“We were 17-7 up at half-time against Leicester, playing well and then we lose guys to the bin, we were 18-6 up against Bath, nine points ahead against Wasps in the last 10 minutes.

“If those games had gone our way it’s a different kettle of fish.

“We’re aware of where we are, but we also know that we’re not a million miles away.”

Dowson admits his move to Worcester has given him ‘a new lease of life’, but he is looking forward to catching up with some old friends this weekend.

He is sure to get a warm welcome from the Franklin’s Gardens faithful, having become a fans’ favourite during his time at Northampton, which included an Aviva Premiership title and an LV= Cup triumph, in which Dowson skippered Saints to a final victory at Sixways.

“When I played for Newcastle and we won down there, I was surprised Northampton had given man of the match to Carl Hayman because normally away sides don’t get man of the match for whatever reason,” Dowson said, when asked about the Saints supporters.

“I had a lot of respect for that and a lot of people that day congratulated me and said the best side won.

“I was talking to GJ (van Velze) about it this morning and it’s a knowledgable crowd. They’re very, very honest and it’s a good place to play.

“We’ve been talking about it with the Worcester boys and saying Franklin’s Gardens is a great environment to play rugby.

“It’s a tough environment and a lot of sides have gone there and got a good hiding so we need to be on our mettle.”