Dowson wishes Saints could welcome fans for home quarter-final

Phil Dowson can't wait for the Saints players to experience big knockout nights in front of fans at Franklin's Gardens.

By Tom Vickers
Wednesday, 7th April 2021, 1:16 pm
Phil Dowson at Saints training this week
Phil Dowson at Saints training this week

But for now, he is hoping they can get the job done behind closed doors as they bid to take another step towards silverware on Saturday night.

Dowson was part of a Saints squad that regularly sampled huge European encounters at Franklin's Gardens.

He is now the forwards coach at the club and is preparing the players for a home Challenge Cup quarter-final clash with Ulster this weekend.

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And Dowson, who was a key player for Saints between 2009 and 2015, said : "The biggest disappointment this week is that there won't be fans in.

"It is special here because Northampton has a really strong reputation throughout European rugby fans that people come here for away trips because they know it's a knowledgeable crowd, they know it's going to be full, it's going to be noisy and it's going to be a good atmosphere.

"Some of my fondest memories have been playing here with a band in the corner from France and things like that.

"I really remember my first European game here when we played Munster under the lights (in October 2009), running out and the atmosphere was absolutely electric.

"Shane Geraghty had an absolute worldie and we beat Munster here at home and it's a memory that sticks with me.

"I went for a curry afterwards with my sister and I was just buzzing for the rest of the night because it had been such a good experience.

"I just feel sometimes talking to someone like Dave Ribbans or Alex Coles in the lineout group that they aren't getting that experience as much because the crowd add so much to it.

"It's the same at Ravenhill and you run out there with the animosity and the history they had there in terms of an unbeaten record at home and it's a special thing to experience.

"I can't wait for this young group to have that opportunity."

Dowson is hoping his lineout group can steady the ship against Ulster after some difficult days in that area this season.

"There's a couple of reasons around it and I won't go into incredibly boring detail," he said.

"I thought we called well against Worcester and had a good day there but we were a bit hit and miss in terms of accuracy of lift and throw. Some of our ability to execute wasn't where it needed to be and away from home that happens.

"What we did do in the second half last week was went back to our fundamentals, put some pressure on them and it showed good composure from Alex Coles, who led the lineout group exceptionally well.

"It's always going to be hit and miss, there's not a side in the world who wins 100 per cent of their lineouts, and it's about how you recover from losing a couple that's the most important thing."

Saints' bench has been able to have a big impact in the past two weeks, with the team scoring 12 second-half tries across the games against Worcester and the Dragons.

And Dowson said: "It's something we speak about in terms of the last 20 minutes of games when the pressure's high, teams are fatigued, people are starting to work each other out.

"The bench has a huge impact in providing energy and accuracy to get us over the line so a lot of those players who have come off the bench will be frustrated in being there but they have been exceptional at doing their job."