Defence coach Vass calls for consistency from Saints
Ian Vass is calling on Saints to develop some consistency as they get set to take on league leaders Bristol Bears at Franklin's Gardens on Sunday.
The Bears have been a picture of consistency themselves this season, winning 10 of the 13 Gallagher Premiership games they have played.
Pat Lam's side have been able to regularly back up wins, something Saints are still learning to do.
Chris Boyd's team secured a superb win at Exeter Chiefs last month but then lost at home to Bath on the following weekend.
And now they are bidding to ensure that a similar thing doesn't happen this weekend, having seen off Sale Sharks last time out.
"Now we need to be more consistent," said defence coach Vass.
"We've been better but we can still be more consistent.
"You have to be able to back up a win with a win.
"We know we won't win every game but consistency is the piece of the jigsaw we need to stop us going up and down so much."
Saints consistently struggled for large parts of 2020, losing 12 games on the spin.
Vass, who arrived from Montpellier in January last year, and his fellow coaches came in for some criticism during that time.
But he said: "I don't mind - I'm pretty thick-skinned.
"The game goes in cycles and it's never just one problem.
"I don't particularly feel any pressure.
"I knew when I arrived it would be a longer-term project to get to where we wanted to get to.
"It was never going to be a matter of weeks and I was always long-sighted on it.
"It doesn't take away from the fact you need to win, but I felt confident we'd pull through the other side.
"Time on the field was what we needed and what we didn't have.
"When we were playing every four or five days, there was no real time to put things right on the training field.
"It wasn't tough, it was disappointing in the fact that everyone put the same amount of effort in as they have this year.
"It was always going to be a longer process and the principles we were trying to put in place were never going to take a short amount of time, especially with the disrupted season.
"Some of those things are starting to show through now and there was always going to be some short-term pain.
"Once we flicked the switch to this season, we were much improved.
"I know we lost the first couple of games but we knew we were getting close and when the corner turned we would win some games."
The Saints coaches have turned things around since the win against Worcester Warriors on Boxing Day and the team are now eyeing a top-four spot.
But Vass knows how difficult it will be to beat current table-toppers Bristol this weekend.
"It's a totally different challenge because you know Sale will come at you hard down the middle and you know Bristol will go wide," he said.
"It's a different challenge defensively and we have to be able to learn in the space of a week.
"It comes from experience and time on the field and the challenge is to be able to adapt to the team that is coming more so than just backing up week on week.
"It's such a tight league and if you're just slightly off you will lose games.
"There have been lots of one-point games this year, more so than normal.
"There have been loads of one-score games either way and we and Bristol have been involved in a few.
"You're only a penalty away from losing games.
"Bristol have won four games by one point and we've lost two by one point.
"It's such a tight league and you have to be so on it for 80 minutes.
"It will swing you from fifth to third or fifth to eighth if you get those things right or wrong."
Saints will need another big defensive display if they are to defeat the Bears.
And Vass said: "The progress has been steady and bit by bit we've been putting our game together.
"We've been trying to find consistency in all areas to create a consistent level of performance and league position.
"It's coming together but we're not the finished article yet.
"Winning games means you can be harder on yourselves to get better because if you're doing that after a win it's easier to deliver some harder messages to keep improving.
"After winning, you can go a bit stronger and keep pushing to get better."