Phil Dowson’s Saints farewell interview: part two

Phil Dowson (right) lifted the Aviva Premiership trophy with Saints last year
Phil Dowson (right) lifted the Aviva Premiership trophy with Saints last year
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Phil Dowson’s final Saints performance was like any other.

It was packed with pride and passion, an example to every member of the team.

But for Dowson, it was tinged with regret, just as every defeat he has suffered in the green, black and gold has been.

The 33-year-old takes losing as badly now as when he first began playing rugby.

But it hurt a little more as his final appearance for Northampton came against the club’s most bitter of rivals, Leicester Tigers, at Welford Road.

Dowson was handed the honour of leading the team out one more time.

And, unsurprisingly, he struggled to keep a lid on his emotions, before and after the game.

“I wanted to show the lads how much the club meant to me,” Dowson said. “I got quite emotional afterwards, but the others didn’t see it as I was hiding in a corner.

“I was disappointed we lost that game because we had the ability, despite all the changes, to go there and win.

“We were more than a match for them and it’s disappointing we didn’t win that.

“Whether it’s my last game, first game or slap bang in the middle of the six years, my biggest regret is not winning more games.

“The overriding emotion is that I felt we could have.”

Despite the defeat, Dowson could draw pride from the way he marshalled a young Saints side - a number of key first team players were being rested with the following week’s Aviva Premiership play-off semi-final in mind - and the way those around him performed.

Having not made the matchday squads in the previous few weeks, he knew this would probably be his last outing for Saints.

According to James Craig, who was in the team that day, Dowson did well to control himself in his pre-match speech, refusing to let emotion cloud his message to his team.

On the pitch, he played with all of the drive Saints fans have become accustomed to, but there was to be no happy ending in that game, or in the weeks that followed.

“The way selection was going I wouldn’t have played (in the Premiership final) anyway, but I would have loved the lads to have beaten Saracens in the semi-final,” he said.

“It would have been great to be stood on the podium at Twickenham with the fireworks going off knowing that you’d been a part of that 
set-up.”

Dowson had found the final few months of his Saints career difficult.

So desperate to influence the team on the field as much as he did off it, the Guildford-born forward found himself missing out.

But true to his character, he continued to absorb himself in the club culture which he had helped to build since arriving at Franklin’s Gardens in 2009.

“The last six months have been difficult because I’d not played as much as I would have liked to,” Dowson said.

“Since I joined, I played more or less every game, had been very lucky with injuries.

“In the last month I wasn’t playing and that was a shame but at the same time I got to know a lot of the guys who I hadn’t spent much time with, people like Cam Dolan, James Craig, Tom Mercey.

“They’re brilliant players and brilliant people.

“You see a different side to the club when you’re not playing.

“Over the six years my general feeling is that it’s been incredibly successful and incredibly enjoyable.”

That feeling of success and satisfaction owes much to the events of the 2013/14 season.

Having sampled so much heartache, punctuated by an LV= Cup triumph in 2010, Dowson was desperate to sample more glory.

He had endured Heineken Cup agony in 2011 and seen his team miss out in Premiership semi-finals and in the final in 2013.

But 2014 was to be the year of the Saint.

The year all that pain got washed away, with an Amlin Challenge Cup and Aviva Premiership double.

And Dowson, who lifted the Amlin Challenge Cup aloft alongside Tom Wood on that night in Cardiff, deserved the achievements as much as anyone.

“You have to go through that heartache before you get to that prize,” said Dowson. “It’s all part of the evolution of the side.

“You have to learn how to win finals and I think Northampton have.

“The coaches have built a culture, recruited very good players and come up with a game plan that was perfectly suitable for the players they’ve chosen.

“A huge amount of credit goes to all of the coaches

“They recruit well and they coach well, which is a winning combination.”

The recruitment of Dowson was up there with the most important signings Jim Mallinder and Co have made.

And they would have liked to keep hold of him, offering a one-year deal in a bid to keep one of the club’s figureheads at Franklin’s Gardens.

But a two-year deal at Worcester Warriors was too good for Dowson to turn down.

He had never wanted to leave Saints before, but, desperate to play as much as possible and to prolong his career, he opted to switch to Sixways.

“I had never really wanted to,” said Dowson when asked whether he had ever been offered a chance to leave Saints before.

“At some point I maybe had a look at France, but I 
had international aspirations and aspirations to win the league.

“I was at a successful club, enjoying it and an integral part of what we were doing.

“The only reason I left this year was becuase Jim said I wouldn’t be playing as much and I wanted to be playing rather than sitting in the stands.”

That is Dowson in a nutshell: active rather than passive.

He wants to influence what happens on and off the pitch.

He wants to help 
Worcester, who will return to the Premiership after a 
dramatic promotion from 
the Championship last month, build a winning culture.

And, most of all, he wants to drive the club on, from within the white lines of a rugby pitch.

“I’m looking forward to playing, looking forward to the challenge and looking forward to getting stuck into a new environment,” Dowson said.

“I’ve been very settled at Saints and now you’ve got to go back to school and meet new people and earn the respect of the men around you.

“I’m looking forward to starting afresh.”

And what of a return to Franklin’s Gardens with the Warriors next season?

“Northampton has been a big part of my life, just like going back to the Falcons is big for me because my mum’s up there, my friends are up there,” he said.

“I spent a long time up there and it will be just as weird and emotional coming back to Northampton for the first time.

“The more you play those games, the easier it becomes.

“I’m looking forward to it, but at the same time I know Northampton are one of the best sides in the country.

“As a newly-promoted side it’s going to be one of those games that we’re going to have to be at our very best for.”

Dowson leaves Saints in a much better state than he found them.

He has helped them go from bridesmaids to brides.

Helped them turn hurt into unbridled happiness.

And now they will have to do without him.

“I think they’ll cope just fine,” said the modest flanker. “Just look at the players they’ve signed.

“Every year lots of players leave and every year someone comes in and steps up.

“I’ve got no qualms that that’s what will happen again.”

Saints may well go on to 
lift more trophies next season.

And if they do, it will still owe much to the hard yards put in by one of the most influential players in the club’s history.