Northampton Saints 26 London Irish 36: Tom Vickers' review and player ratings

When assessing young players, coaches will be eager to see both class and character in abundance.

Sunday, 14th November 2021, 2:33 pm
Updated Sunday, 14th November 2021, 2:34 pm
Josh Gillespie grabbed a try for Saints

And though Saints didn't get the win they wanted against London Irish at cinch Stadium at Franklin's Gardens on Saturday afternoon, several of their young players provided both of those qualities.

In the first half, it looked like there may be few positives as the players wearing black, green and gold lacked any sort of defensive defiance.

London Irish scored four times from pretty much four visits to the Saints 22, and the floodgates appeared to be well and truly open.

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But while they were far from impressive going backwards, there was always a threat going the other way from the hosts.

The only problem was that Irish were proving a much tougher nut to crack than their Northampton counterparts.

And the fact Irish were able to hold out for long periods, something Saints simply could not do, ultimately decided this game.

Saints showed that class and character that was needed during the second half, totally dominating after the break until the final six minutes of the match.

Irish, who played some very effective stuff during the first half, taking their chances in ruthless fashion, defended manfully for the first 10 minutes after the break.

And the fact they made Saints wait so long to add to George Hendy's debut try from the first half proved key.

Had Irish buckled earlier, there would have been more time and more momentum in the home camp.

As it was, Saints were totally on top as they roared back from 26-7 down at half-time to level at 26-26 with eight minutes to go.

But then the first-half frailties resurfaced as they coughed up another try and a penalty that put the game beyond them.

In a competition where the result doesn't really matter - the Premiership Rugby Cup crown is not high on the priority list this season - at least the desire and self-belief was there.

And there was some quality in the tries Saints scored.

But what this group of players, like their first-team counterparts, struggled with is defensive security under pressure.

This first half, though it had a totally different cast list, was so reminiscent of the one Saints lost to Leicester last month.

They were guilty of poor decisions and execution in attack, and they were made to pay at the other end of the field.

They couldn't resist the pressure that the opposition could, and they conceded far too easily against a more composed outfit.

But as against Leicester, there was a real response at the start of the second period.

And as against Leicester, it should have counted for more than just a try bonus point.

As it was, Saints suffered a third successive defeat in all competitions.

And they simply have to find a way to get back on the horse this week at Harlequins or, at the very latest, next week at Bristol Bears.

They don't want to find themselves in the losing habit coming up to Christmas so the responsibility on the players at the Stoop on Friday night will be sizeable.

How they rated...

GEORGE HENDY

A debut try for the young full-back as he juggled and gathered a Josh Gillespie pass. Looked fairly assured overall... 6.5

JOSH GILLESPIE

One of the stand-out performers on the day as he set up two tries and scored one of his own... 7

TOM LITCHFIELD

The young centre looks a very decent prospect and though he was stopped just short of a try in the first half, he got over in the second, showing fantastic speed... 6.5

RORY HUTCHINSON

The first-team regular was desperate to make things happen for his side and some of his offloading and footwork caught the eye... 6.5

ETHAN GRAYSON

Was replaced early in the second half as Saints sought to mix things up but he hadn't done much wrong overall... 5.5

JAMES GRAYSON

Some of his decisions and execution during the first half in particular didn't work out as he would have hoped, but some of his passing during the second half was pinpoint... 6

TOM JAMES

Looked tidy in possession and is clearly still working on his sharpness after injury, but there are some good signs... 5.5

MANNY IYOGUN

Came back on during the second half as Nick Auterac had to go off temporarily, and there were signs of his power and ability... 6

REECE MARSHALL

Good to see this man back in a Saints shirt after his recent stint at Bedford and he tried to provide plenty of energy before being replaced at the break... 5

KARL GARSIDE

Came off at half-time as Saints freshened things up in the forwards so there wasn't too much time to impress... 5

ALEX MOON

Was punished by the referee once or twice in the first half but responded with some decent carries... 5.5

BRANDON NANSEN

Had his afternoon cut short by injury but it had been an eventful first half for the lock, who thundered into tackles, occasionally finding himself on the wrong side of the referee... 5

ALEX COLES

Captained Saints for the first time and looked eager to lead his team to victory as he powered forward at every opportunity... 6

KAYDE SYLVESTER

There has been plenty of talk about how talented this young man is, and there were signs of that here as he carried really well and tackled hard before being forced off injured... 6.5

KARL WILKINS

Was hungry to get his hands on the ball and he tried to take the fight to the opposition with some big carries... 6.5

Replacements (who played more than 20 minutes)

NICK AUTERAC (for Iyogun 40)

Was in the thick of the action after coming on, carrying with real force and popping up all over the pitch as he sought to drag Saints back into it... 7

JAMES FISH (for Marshall 40)

Showed great determination and bravery to power over for a timely try for his side... 7

CONOR CAREY (for Garside 40)

The prop looks like a useful battering ram as he has the power to put the opposition on the back foot... 6.5

TOM LOCKETT (for Nansen 40)

A strong showing from the lock, who made a real impact after coming on at half-time, using his sizeable frame to good effect... 7

TOM COLLINS (for E Grayson 52)

Showed his first-team ability with some lovely footwork that opened the door for Fish's score... 6.5

CONNOR TUPAI (for James 56)

Never shies away from confrontation in the heat of battle and was eager to up the tempo when he came on... 6

OLLIE NEWMAN (for Sylvester 58)

Was making his way back from injury and he got plenty of involvement here as Saints roared back into the game... 6

CHRON STAR MAN - Benhard van Rensburg (London Irish)