Boyd's composure key as Saints bid to secure top-four spot
It’s fair to say that Chris Boyd has shown an ability to keep his feet on the ground in both good and bad situations.
When Saints finished in the Gallagher Premiership play-off places at the end of his first campaign as boss, he refused to get too carried away, instead pointing out the huge amount of work ahead.
It then seemed that work was coming to fruition when Saints sat second in the league standings at the start of 2020, playing a swaggering style of rugby that booked them a place in the quarter-finals of the Champions Cup.
But things unravelled badly in a Covid-affected 2020, leaving everyone at Franklin’s Gardens searching for answers.
Boyd remained unmoved, even during the 12-game losing streak that piled pressure upon pressure on his shoulders.
He never showed any signs of an increase in agitation, keeping cool in the midst of one of the worst runs in the club’s storied history.
And eventually, they came out the other side.
Saints went from losing the final seven away matches of 2020 to winning six of the first seven in 2021.
They have moved back into top-four contention and now face a huge final five matches as they bid to book their place in the play-offs.
Saints currently sit fifth in the Premiership, four points off fourth and five off third.
The pressure is very much back on, in a different kind of way.
And that cool head of their Kiwi boss will undoubtedly be key for Saints if they are to keep calm and carry on into the play-offs.
“Chris wasn’t really dissimilar when we lost 12 games on the bounce to how he is now,” said Saints forwards coach Phil Dowson.
“He was frustrated and annoyed but at the same time, he was very supportive, he took the pressure off and he made sure we knew what we were about and how we could get the ship back on course.
“It won’t be much different when we’re going for broke at the other end of the table.
“He’s hugely experienced, he’s bright and he knows what the group need to perform.
“He’s not taking the pressure off completely because we need to have an internal pressure on our standards and how we perform as well as our training standards.
“But he’s not going to put any extra pressure on outcomes and things like that because we know if we win our games, we’ll get a chance.”
Saints will certainly not have it easy during the run-in, with many different challenges lying in wait.
The first comes against a Gloucester team who have hugely underperformed this season, sitting 10th in the standings.
They possess some electric backs such as Jonny May, Louis Rees-Zammit, Santiago Carreras and Ollie Thorley.
And in the pack, they have some seasoned performers such as Ed Slater, Jordy Reid and Ruan Ackermann.
“They’ve got probably the fastest back three in the league with Jonny May, Rees-Zammit and Thorley and all these boys,” said Dowson.
“They’ve got quality in the centres with Billy Twelvetrees, Chris Harris and Mark Atkinson, who is really underrated. He goes at the line hard and gets offloads away.
“They’ve got Ackermann at eight and he’s a destructive ball carrier.
“Jordy Reid is a menace at the breakdown - the list goes on.
“Jack Singleton at hooker is an England prospect and there is loads of quality.
“They have definitely improved from when we won there in January and at some point they will put a run of games together where they win - and we’ve got to make sure it doesn’t start against us here at the Gardens this weekend.”
Saints gave their players the week off last week as they were not in European action last weekend.
And it proved to be beneficial for everyone at the club.
“I really enjoyed the week off actually,” Dowson said.
“I didn’t do much because I’ve got a nine-week-old at home so we just had day trips and the weather was pretty decent.
“It was a nice week and I know a few of the boys went away - it was staycations all round.
“It was good everyone could get away from the game for a week because it can get quite intense.”
It was a very distant weekend for Saints fans as there was a blackout on social media from players and the club.
And Dowson said: “It’s a positive thing to leave it alone for a while because when it’s your job and it’s every day, social media can be a constant reminder of things.
“I don’t use it much any more but I know a lot of the boys do so it’s nice to put that down and have a break.”
There isn’t much negativity around Saints at the moment though, and they know a big end to the season can put them in contention for a title.
“There’s a lot to play for,” Dowson said.
“We’ve got five games of the regular season left to qualify for the top four, which is our goal, and we’ve got to perform week on week.
“All the teams are tough and you’re not entirely sure what they are going to need to qualify for Europe next year so there’s people who are pushing for different levels.
“We need to keep performing well and winning.
“If all the top four sides keep doing the same thing and we miss out, at least we’ve done our job.
“We can’t rely on other teams.
“If we can get to the play-offs, it’s knock-out rugby and with the momentum we’ve got you never know.”