Collins ready to make his mark in massive year at Saints

Tom Collins enjoyed a strong start to last season, including a try-scoring display in a win against Leicester Tigers at Franklin's Gardens (picture: Sharon Lucey)
Tom Collins enjoyed a strong start to last season, including a try-scoring display in a win against Leicester Tigers at Franklin's Gardens (picture: Sharon Lucey)

For a few summers now, the season ahead has looked set to belong to Tom Collins.

But every time it looks like Collins might manage to cement his place in Saints' first team, a knock-back comes.

Whether it be due to injury or, more often than not, the view of the coaches, plenty of things have stood in the way of the speedy wing's career progression.

Since making his debut in 2013, the Academy product has gone on to rack up a total of 50 first-team appearances, scoring 13 tries in the process.

Collins has become a favourite among fans who feel he should have been utilised more often, especially as he has shown his capabilities in the biggest of games.

He started in the sensational victory against Leinster in Dublin in December 2013 and also in the stunning Premiership play-off semi-final success against Leicester later that season.

But the odd mistake, like one he made at Gloucester last October, has cost Collins dear, with the 24-year-old often seen strutting his stuff for the Wanderers in recent times.

However, with a fresh coaching team now in place at Franklin's Gardens, Collins has a clean slate.

And he knows just how vital this season will be under the tutelage of new boss Chris Boyd and attack coach Sam Vesty.

"It's a big opportunity for me," Collins said.

"In the previous few years, I've been in and out of the team and struggled to keep a space.

"The next year or so is massive, turning 24 this year.

"It's time I started to put a marker down to get into that first team."

Several players headed for the Franklin's Gardens exit door during the summer, with many bemoaning a lack of opportunities afforded to them.

Collins has stuck around, but his story is a familiar one.

"It's been very frustrating but I haven't had as many injuries as people think I've had," said the Northampton-born back.

"Especially during the past two years or so, I've often been fully fit.

"I obviously had a brief spell out with my toe, but that was only four weeks and it was really my only injury for the past two years.

"It's been frustrating because everyone seems to think I'm injured all the time, but I've been in and out of the team, getting dropped for the past two years and it's been hard to get some confidence together because when that happens, you get knocked back a bit.

"For me, this year's about staying positive - it's a massive opportunity for me and I want to stay fit and keep pushing on.

"I'm trying to cement a spot and show the new coaches what I can do."

So how has the approach to pre-season changed under the new coaches?

"It hasn't changed too much - everything's fairly similar as it's about getting strong and getting tough," Collins said.

"The main change this year has been the mentality of everyone.

"Everyone seems to be pulling together and you can see that in training.

"Everyone's feeling confident.

"Sometimes a new management gives you a new spark and gets you excited for things.

"A lot of boys are excited and the chemistry the boys are showing out on the training pitch is really good.

"Although it's pre-season and it's hard to see where we're at, the boys are looking forward to this first game."

That first game will come this weekend as Saints travel to Bridgend to face Ospreys in a pre-season friendly.

"I'm looking forward to it a lot," Collins said.

"It's just nice to have something at the end of the week.

"We've been working hard and to have a game to look forward to is good."

Collins will hope to make an early impression on Boyd and Co this weekend.

But even if he doesn't, he knows he will be given some much-needed time to prove his worth, which is something he hasn't always been afforded.

"For the last few years as a young lad coming through, if I came into the team and made a mistake, I was dropped," Collins said.

"It happened so often because I'm a player who, yeah, I'm going to make mistakes, but I can also do good things as well.

"It's important for me to have confidence behind me and this year the coaches seem to be throwing confidence my way, which is massive.

"For a player like me, confidence is so important because I feel like I can do a lot more on the pitch.

"I can play with my head up rather than just going around trying to not make a mistake because I'm worried whether or not I'm going to get picked.

"If we can all go out there, show what we can do and give it our all on the pitch, it will be massive for us."

New attack coach Vesty has clearly played a key role in instilling belief at Saints during pre-season.

Collins explained: "His approach is just about giving us the confidence to have a go.

"He's been massive for me all pre-season, giving me the confidence to work on the things I need to work on.

"He's given me help through all of that and that's what I needed - someone not to get on my back but to coach me out of my bad habits.

"He's been massively important for me and it's great having a backs coach who wants us to play and isn't reluctant to have a go.

"We've got the squad here, some strong lads, a massive backline and we can use every advantage to get on the front foot.

"He's given us that confidence to have a go and show what we can do."

Collins admits it was strange to see so many coaches and players he had some to know extremely well exit Saints during the summer.

But he is enjoying the fresh feeling around Franklin's Gardens.

"It's been a weird change for me over the past couple of years because I'd only trained under one management," he said.

"And I've been around my mates I've grown up with and been with through the whole process.

"It's been weird seeing lads move on and coaches move on and it's now a completely new structure and way of playing.

"But it's nice to have a fresh start, fresh faces and we're moving forward.

"It's really good."