Maturing Grayson ready to step up for Saints

James Grayson grabbed a try in Saints' pre-season friendly against Glasgow Warriors last Friday (picture: Kirsty Edmonds)
James Grayson grabbed a try in Saints' pre-season friendly against Glasgow Warriors last Friday (picture: Kirsty Edmonds)

There have been plenty of positives to take from Saints’ first pre-season under the stewardship of Chris Boyd - and the performance of James Grayson is certainly one of them.

Grayson appears to have matured significantly in such a short space of time, having made his debut in the season opener against Saracens at Twickenham during the previous campaign.

The 20-year-old has achieved a lot since then, making 10 further appearances for the Saints first team - including three starts - and helping to steer England Under-20s to the final of the World Rugby Under-20s Championships.

And this pre-season, Grayson has really shown that he will be one to watch at Franklin’s Gardens during the weeks and months ahead.

He now possesses an authority that was understandably not present during his first few games in the Saints No.10 shirt.

He has bulked up, stepped up and even prompted one paper in Wales to suggest after the win at Dragons that Saints might not need stellar new signing Dan Biggar after all.

That would be pushing it a little too far, but there is no doubt that Grayson’s development has been stark, and a lot of that comes from the confidence that is currently coursing through his veins.

“Early on last season I was probably a bit cautious when I was playing,” Grayson said.

“I was scared to make mistakes, but now I’m getting a little bit older, I’ve got a bit more experience and I’ve realised that I’m being picked for a reason.

“They think I’m good enough to be playing so it’s about playing with that confidence and freedom that I’ve played with as a youngster. I’m trying to keep that in my game.

“As I get older and more comfortable in the group, more authority will come out.”

The arrival of attack coach Sam Vesty appears to have had the desired effect on the Saints backs, with several of them speaking about the belief and added freedom the former Worcester Warriors mentor has given them.

“Sam has brought that massive emphasis on decision, process and then outcome,” Grayson said.

“It’s about backing your decision, trying to get your process right and the outcome will take care of itself.

“It’s about being confident in yourself and if you get a group of confident players, they’re more dangerous than anything.

“There has been a massive focus during pre-season on offloading and not being afraid to chuck the ball around, backing our skills under pressure.

“This coaching setup has started really well for me.”

And not only does Grayson get to learn from one of the most highly-rated young coaches in the English game, he also gets to mix it with one of the best fly-halves in world rugby.

“Me and Bigs spend quite a bit of time together,” Grayson said.

“We’re sat relatively close in the changing room so we chat about rugby quite a lot.

“As you can imagine, we do quite a lot of kicking and extra skills together.

“As a young player, I’m obviously going to ask him about things as much as I can, but I can understand him not wanting to give away too much.

“He’s been good so far for me and hopefully that will continue.”

Some youngsters would be daunted at trying to compete for a starting spot with a British & Irish Lions star.

But not Grayson.

“I can’t wait and it can only be a good thing for the team having pressure on positions,” he said.

“Bigs has already said that if you want to be a team pushing for the top, you need back-up and pressure coming in every position in the team.

“I’m looking forward to the challenge ahead.

“Obviously he’s going to be No.1 and I’m just going to try to put as much pressure on as I can and play well when I get my opportunities.

“We’re both quite similar, we both try to manage the game through our kicking game.

“A work-on for me is trying to take the ball to the line, trying to run and be a threat with the ball but through pre-season that’s coming more to fruition.

“I’m trying to learn everything I can from Dan and take my opportunities when they come.”

With Biggar set to be away with Wales for lengthy spells of the season, Grayson should get plenty of game time.

And he knows he needs it as he looks to show the coaches they should keep him around for many years to come.

“I’m in the last year of my contract at the club so opportunities are really crucial for me and I need to take them,” Grayson said.

“I want to stay at Northampton, I want to push on and put the pressure on Dan.

“Obviously he’ll be away on international duty and there’s a void there that needs to be filled.

“Hopefully I can step up and do that.

“I will try my best.”

With Saints hoping that they are at the start of a journey that will restore them among English’s elite, it seems like the perfect place for Grayson to grow as a player.

Franklin’s Gardens has been all he has ever known, with his dad Paul, Saints’ all-time record points scorer, having enjoyed such an incredible career in the black, green and gold.

“I’ve obviously spent a long time here as a youngster and with this new coaching setup, it’s a good place to be,” Grayson junior said.

“Sam and Chris are putting real emphasis on playing a real good style of rugby and seeing if teams can live with it.

“It’s definitely a place I want to be.

“Obviously I’m still young and still in the early stages of my career and this is obviously a new era for the Saints.

“It would be brilliant to try to be as big a part of that as I can.”

Grayson is now setting his sights on senior rugby with Saints this season.

And he has been working hard on and off the pitch to ensure he is in the best shape possible to achieve his own, and Saints’, aims.

“I’ve bulked up over the summer,” Grayson said.

“I’ve spoken to the coaches here and they’re not fixated with me putting weight on - it’s not the be-all and end-all.

“I’ve shown that I can tackle and I can defend and putting weight on will come as I get older.

“It’s about trying to keep that composure on the field and when the pressure’s on, you have 14 heads turn to you and you are able to call the shots.

“That’s something I still need to keep driving and working on.”