Ferguson explains how Saints have turned it around in the final 10 minutes of matches

Not so long ago, the last 10 minutes of a match was nightmare territory for Saints.

By Tom Vickers
Saturday, 9th October 2021, 7:00 am
Chris Boyd, Matt Ferguson and Ian Vass
Chris Boyd, Matt Ferguson and Ian Vass

As Chris Boyd said after seeing his side squander a chance to win against Bordeaux last December, the black, green and gold were finding 'new ways to lose'.

And lose they did, on a regular basis during a hugely difficult 2020.

But this season, Saints have flipped that on its head.

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Rather than coming undone late on in matches, Saints have come on strong.

Well, strongly enough to seal three victories in as many attempts in the 2021/22 version of the Gallagher Premiership.

It means they travel to Wasps on Sunday occupying a lofty position in the embryonic league standings.

And though they are far from happy with their overall showings so far, they are also delighted with the outcomes.

"It's the ultimate bittersweet really," said assistant coach Matt Ferguson.

"We've had three tight games, three wins, but definitely not performances we're proud of.

"It's actually quite un-Saints-like, the way we've got through these three games.

"We spent a lot of time in pre-season talking about the number of games we lost last year, and out of the 11 games we lost in the league, seven of them were a one-score game going into the last 10 minutes.

"So we spent a lot of time in pre-season talking about how we managed those last 10 minutes.

"And the most positive part of these three games this season is that we're 16-0 up in the last 10 minutes of these three games combined.

"There have been some bumps on the road up until those stages so it's that real bittersweet because there's no doubt in the past couple of years, we wouldn't have got through these past three fixtures.

"Winning the last 10 minutes of those three games and not conceding is getting us the results.

"But it's quite un-Saints-like to be scoring less tries than the opposition and winning games.

"We're not overly happy with where we are because of the consistency part of the fixtures but it's much easier to be sat here telling you we're not happy with our consistency after three wins rather than three losses."

So just how have Saints shifted from losing games late on to winning them?

"It's everyone being a year older and it's experience," Ferguson said.

"Sam (Vesty) has done a really good job and we've had scoreboards out on the training pitch, electronic clocks pitchside, scenarios and we talk a lot around that game management.

"You can't be losing seven games we were within one score of in the final 10 minutes like we did last year - that's ultimately cost us top four.

"It has been a focus but it shouldn't be a focus beyond playing our brand of rugby and our DNA, and when we get that balance right, if we can win the first 70 minutes and carry on winning the last 10, we'll be okay.

"It is experience, it is that game management that comes from people being in those games and losing them.

"You probably have to lose those games by one score, like the Bristol games last year, to be able to come round and turn these games like we did last weekend."

Saints now turn their attentions to taking on Wasps at the CBS Arena on Sunday.

And Ferguson said: "It's very obvious what threat you get from Wasps: it's a breakdown battle.

"You'll have two teams in this game who will want to move the ball and how you move the ball from structured or unstructured play is completely dictated by what happens at the breakdown.

"They've got some of the best breakdown players in the league so we need to make sure we're sharp on both sides of the ball.

"It comes back down to our launch, which comes down to our set piece and our ability to put numbers at the line where we want to so we don't give their poachers a chance to get over the ball.

"It's important because we haven't been able to put the tempo and speed on the game for the length of time we've wanted to in these first three games.

"And the one way you kill tempo is you kill the breakdown so anyone playing Saints will know slowing the ball down is a way to do it.

"Wasps played some good stuff away to Newcastle last weekend and they're not going to move the ball if they're not on top of the breakdown, and they will try to stop us doing that."