Gibson and Saints embracing new Challenge in Europe this season

Jamie Gibson (right) and Saints are ready to take on the Dragons (picture: Kirsty Edmonds)
Jamie Gibson (right) and Saints are ready to take on the Dragons (picture: Kirsty Edmonds)

Last season, the Champions Cup brought little more than misery to Saints.

Aside from a superb January success against Clermont Auvergne, it was painful defeat after painful defeat for the black, green and gold.

Ventures into Europe either killed any momentum Saints had built up or simply rubbed salt in the wounds.

Ospreys and Saracens both did the double over Saints, while Clermont beat them at Stade Marcel Michelin before suffering a shock defeat at Franklin's Gardens.

All in all, it was a chastening experience and one that had a detrimental effect on an equally disappointing Premiership campaign.

Saints eventually finished ninth, slipping into the Challenge Cup.

It is the first season since 2008 that they have begun a campaign in Europe's second tier tournament.

And with the Premiership more intense than ever this season, with just four points separating sixth from the relegation place, it could just have come at a good time.

The last thing Saints needed after two disappointing defeats to sides sitting bottom of the Premiership was a morale-sapping game against one of the continent's giants.

The Dragons and Timisoara Saracens provide extremely beatable opposition in the next two weeks before the Premiership returns with a trip to Worcester Warriors.

And Saints can now use their venture into Europe to rebuild belief ahead of that big league game four days before Christmas.

"Every game in the Premiership this year is important," said Saints flanker Jamie Gibson. "Every game is tough.

"We've got two weeks to see where we can go in the Challenge Cup and then it's refocus and back in the Premiership for a three-game block."

But Gibson stopped well short of suggesting he would rather play in the Challenge Cup than the Champions Cup.

"You want to play in the Champions Cup because that's where the big crowds are and that's what a lot of players play rugby for: those big games," he said.

"You play against the best teams from France and Ireland but from a coaching point of view, I suppose the Challenge Cup is not necessarily a bad thing.

"It's a way of breaking up the season, rotating, freshening things up, trying new things out and it allows us to refocus.

"It's a two-week block and then we're back in the Premiership, but we know we've got to put a performance in on Saturday."

Saints, who started their Challenge Cup campaign with a defeat to Clermont, will be confident of slaying the Dragons this weekend.

They cruised past the Welsh region at Rodney Parade in October and also won there in convincing fashion in pre-season.

But Gibson is wary of a team that will be wounded after suffering a home humbling at the hands of Leinster last weekend.

"We've played them twice this year, we've had two good wins but they've got some players back," Gibson said.

"They're coming here knowing they have to win to have any chance so they'll come out here wanting to win.

"We know we have to get our side right, stamp our authority on the game, get the crowd behind us and go from there."

Gibson has played 13 times for Saints this season, starting six of those matches.

And when asked how he views his own campaign so far, he said: "It's been positive and it's also been very different.

"There have been a lot of frustrating results and there's a lot of internal frustration in the group because we've lost games rather than been beaten in them.

"We're building and we've done some things really well.

"We talked about some things six weeks ago and we're looking at it now thinking we've got on the most part to where we want to go.

"It's little tweaks and then we'll put results we should be putting on the table rather than those narrow losses."

Gibson has been competing for starts with the likes of Tom Wood and Lewis Ludlam in the Saints back row.

And he said: "The nature of the season now is that once you've played six, seven, eight games in a row, you start to struggle. The training effect disappears and you take longer to recover.

"As a player you want to play every game but the more players you've got competing for those spaces, the more you enjoy the challenge."