Prop Hill hoping to end big season on a high at Saints
This season may have been largely forgettable for Saints, but it has certainly been a memorable one for Paul Hill.
The 21-year-old’s campaign has included 22 appearances for his club, a first cap for his country, one of the disallowed tries of the season (at Leicester) and a starring role in a Northampton nativity play.
And now Hill will look to cap his first season at Franklin’s Gardens in style, by helping the club achieve the minimum aim of securing a top-six spot in the Aviva Premiership.
With two games to go, Saints know they must beat Bath and Gloucester to make sure they will be playing Champions Cup rugby next season.
And ahead of Saturday’s game against Bath at the Gardens, Hill said: “It’s the last couple of games now and we need to stay in the top six so it’s not going to be easy.
“Bath put up a good fight when we went down there so we can’t relax and kick back. We need to give it everything we’ve got.”
Bath are currently languishing in ninth in the Aviva Premiership, but Hill said: “We might still be playing for a top-six spot and it might be out of their reach, but they won’t kick back.
“They’re still a good team and they throw the ball around, regardless of their situation, so we need to watch out for them and their strong backline.”
If Saints win and Leicester lose to Worcester Warriors at Welford Road, Hill and Co would still be in the hunt for a play-off place going into the final game, at Gloucester on May 7.
It may be an unlikely prospect, but you feel lifting a piece of silverware would be the icing on the cake in a fine campaign for Hill, who arrived at Northampton from Yorkshire Carnegie last summer.
“I’ve loved it here,” he said. “It’s been fantastic.
“I’ve been involved in the Premiership and with the international stuff and I would have liked a bit more game time with England, but that’s international rugby for you.
“I’ve come here, learned from different players and it’s good to be in this environment.
“It’s been really good working with (Saints forwards coach) Dorian West and he’s always looking to improve me as a scrummager, which is what you need.”
Injuries to Kieran Brookes helped open the door for Hill, who has been competing with the former Newcastle Falcons man for club and country.
And Hill said: “Playing as much as I have is not something I really had in my peripherals to start off with, but you’ve just got to crack on with it.
“I’m really glad (England head coach) Eddie (Jones) chose me to be in the squad, but there’s no promises ever.
“You’ve just got to keep pushing to stay in the squad with England and Saints.”
So what will Hill take from this campaign as he looks to continue realising his immense potential?
“I think I’ll take that the Premiership is just going to be tough, every single game,” he said.
“It’s something not just myself, but the whole team that we need to be cautious in those games when you think you have it in the bag.
“I’m not saying lads were lazy at all, but it’s about sticking through to the last minute.
“We’ve shown we can win games in the last play, but it’s about fighting in every single game and giving it everything you’ve got.”
Hill will now use the final two matches as a platform to spring into next season as he continues to battle Brookes for the Saints No.3 shirt.
It is clear that their friendly rivalry has pushed both players on this season.
And Hill said: “It’s good for both of us.
“We’re both fighting for a position and it keeps you on edge.
“If you’ve got someone who is trying to take your shirt, you’ll perform better.”
Just the fact that he is competing with someone of Brookes’ calibre at this stage of his career says a lot about Hill and his journey.
And he said: “I was at Yorkshire last year in the Championship and the year before that I was at National League Two so it’s been quite a fast transition.
“Normal people would think that, but for me, it’s all I know. It’s just being able push up and get better.”