'Horrible' end to whirlwind season has fuelled the fire for Saints star Coles

Alex Coles is ready to bounce back in the season ahead (photo by David Rogers/Getty Images)Alex Coles is ready to bounce back in the season ahead (photo by David Rogers/Getty Images)
Alex Coles is ready to bounce back in the season ahead (photo by David Rogers/Getty Images)
Alex Coles went from realising a childhood dream with his country to missing out on matchday squads with his club in the space of just a few months.

And while it clearly hit him hard at the time – ‘horrible’ is the word he uses to describe the experience – you can fully expect him to come back stronger, mentally and physically, in the campaign ahead.

"I had a few honest conversations with people at the end of the season,” said Coles, who won his first three England caps during the 2022 Autumn Nations Series.

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“I was playing some stuff I was happy with at the start of the season and went into England camp.

“When I started with England, I'd heard stories of players being in camp for years and never getting a cap and that was what I was expecting but I was thrown in at the deep end and it was an unbelievable experience, everything you want and dream of as a kid.

“I had that massive high in the autumn with that but then I came back, had a couple of concussions and then I got back and everyone was fit in the second row and back row and playing well.

“They just couldn't find a place for me in the team and it was super frustrating and to be honest, I sort of struggled with it at the back end of the season, mentally.

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“Having come back, I felt like having played for England I had to be the best player on the pitch in every game and prove I deserved to have that experience.

“Being an international, I thought I needed to do something special but that's not how it had to be.

“When I came back, I just tried a bit too hard and it just wasn't working.

“But towards the back end of the season and in the off-season, I've been looking forward to a fresh start this season and I want to try to impose myself again.

“It was a tricky time for me, to be honest.”

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As Saints charged towards the Gallagher Premiership play-offs, Coles was forced to sit on the sidelines, despite being fully fit.

"It was horrible really,” said the 23-year-old.

“It was the back end of the season and we were fighting for top four so I was fully behind the team and I wished us all the success but it can be tough, watching on and not playing.

“It's something I don't want to get too used to.

“It was a tricky one of a few head knocks and then I just didn't really find my form.

“It's good to be in the position where we've got that healthy competition. Sadly I just came out on the wrong end of it then.

“But it's just fuelled me for this season really.

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“Stuff can change really quick in rugby and that happened to me last season so I'll mentally be better for it.

“It's about trying not to get too carried away when things go well and then trying not to get too frustrated when things go badly.

“I think I will learn from it and it's better to have that experience earlier than later on.

“I'm feeling stronger for it, even though it was a bit painful at the time.”

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Coles and players such as Fraser Dingwall and Alex Mitchell are not in England’s current World Cup training squad.

But they will have each other to bounce off at their club as they look to put Saints on the right track to glory while the international actions goes on in France.

"It's nice having that group coming to that age where we've all got really strong international ambitions and that comes from club success,” Coles said.

"We've all grown up at the club and we're fed up of just getting fourth - we want to get that trophy as a group.

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"It drives us and the rest of the team that we've got a core group with a few more years of experience than when we started.

"Hopefully we can drive the team forward.”

Coles has already made 88 appearances for Saints, having come through the club's Academy to make his debut against Wasps back in November 2018.

And he is considered one of the key young leaders at the club, alongside the likes of Fraser Dingwall and skipper Lewis Ludlam.

"I'm not thinking of it as any sort of formal leadership thing because we've got enough leaders in the team that do a great job already, the likes of Dingers and Luds,” Coles said.

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"But especially among the forwards, I've had a big role over the past few years in the lineout area and I enjoy taking some responsibility.

"We've got lots of people willing to talk and hold each other accountable to drive standards, now more than ever before.

"It comes with a bit of experience that people take control of the team themselves and it's something I'm happy to do, working alongside others. It's not just one or two individuals.”

Saints will start their season with five Premiership Rugby Cup matches, including fixtures against Championship sides Ealing Trailfinders, Cambridge and Doncaster Knights.

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And Coles said: “I'm really excited and I think it's a nice addition having the Championship sides involved.

“I played some of my youth rugby at Cambridge so getting to play them is quite fun.

“Obviously it's into the Prem (opening fixture at Sale on October 15) after that and it's great for the fans that all of the Premiership games are outside of the window so we get to see everyone there for the big derby matches that we maybe haven't had in the last few years.

“It's a long way off but we're excited.”