At this week’s media session, Saints skipper Lee Dickson talked about getting back to ‘the Northampton way’.
After a stuttering start to the season, which has seen them lose four of their first seven Aviva Premiership matches, Dickson and Co are steeling themselves for a New Year’s Day clash with Exeter Chiefs at Franklin’s Gardens.
Saints have taken a long, hard look in the mirror after the shock 25-23 defeat to London Irish at the Madejski Stadium last weekend.
And Dickson gave an open and honest account of what they have seen, outlining what he and his team-mates are doing to ensure the start of the new year goes more smoothly than the end of 2015.
Below is the Chron’s Q&A with the captain as he gives his views on the side’s current form and the clash with Exeter on the back of three games without a win.
Lee, you have mentioned getting back to ‘the Northampton way’ - what does that mean?
“As a team we’re built on hard work for each other and outworking teams for 80 minutes, making sure that we’re physical and we’re direct.
“When we’ve played big games here and we’ve won big games here, we’ve been hard and direct, a little bit hard-nosed.
“We’ve got a phenomenal pack, who have been on the front foot all year with a dominant set piece, and we’ve got a big backline.
“We’ve got the likes of Luther (Burrell), George (North), Fodes (Ben Foden), people like that hitting lines, and we need to utilise them a little bit more.
“The Northampton way is that we’ve got to make sure we’re a bit more hard-nosed, a bit more direct and we get a bit more front-foot ball.”
So why haven’t you quite been able to find the form you want of late?
“It’s been there in parts and just little errors have meant that games have not gone our way.
“Down at Irish, we got ourselves a lead and we gave four penalties away, meaning we’re on our line with six minutes to go.
“Sometimes it’s discipline, sometimes it’s refs, sometimes it’s us, and we have a hard look at ourselves every Monday.
“When we have big wins, we’re all happy and when we have defeats we’ve got to not go too far away from what we’re about.
“We’ve got to believe in our system, believe in what we’re about and improve on it each week.
“I think we will do that in this Exeter game.”
How much does it matter that you haven’t started how you would have liked?
“Last couple of years, I think we’ve started pretty well.
“The start is important in getting points on the board, but at the end of the day it’s come April and May that you want to be in that top four.
“Trophies aren’t won now and that’s the beautiful thing about rugby.
“We’re not playing as well as we could but we’re still playing well in patches.
“We’ve got some good wins and there’s another week to improve.
“We have to keep going, keep going and keep going and we might get five or six wins on the bounce. People are then talking other things.
“At the moment, we’re not doing it, but we’re out there every day trying harder to do it.
“I fully believe that we will be in the Premiership top four this year and fighting in Europe because we’ve got the people in the changing room who have the desire to be there.
“Coaches, players, staff all believe that we can do it, and that’s all that matters to us: that in-house we believe we can do it and we will do it.”
Do you look at the likes of Saracens, who finished fourth last season but went on to win the title and are now sitting top of the table, as inspiration?
“You look at everything.
“Last year, Leicester were near enough bottom of the league with seven of eight games gone.
“All it takes is just a spark, something to happen in a game and then your fortunes change.
“But it’s also to do with hard work on the training pitch and making sure as a group we’re all together.
“We’re all mates, we all get on well and we’ve got to make sure that come May we’re in that top four and we’re fighting on both fronts.”
And the game against Exeter at the start of a new year seems the perfect way to find that spark you’re looking for...
“It’s a very good game.
“There’s no better opportunity than against a livewire, strong Exeter team.
“They’ve been flying high this season and everyone’s talking about them, so that’s brilliant for us.
“We can go under the radar a bit this week and make sure we front up come Friday.
“If we don’t, we’ve seen what they can do to teams.
“We know there’s no better team to face after that loss against Irish.”
Exeter did the double over Saints last season, so how much did you learn from those matches?
“Tommy Waldrom is a phenomenal player, Will Chudley is playing very well at the moment, Gareth Steenson makes them tick.
“They’ve got a good, hard working pack, they like to play very quick rugby, moving the ball around a lot.
“Luther speaks about it every week, that we’ve got to be physical in defence and we’ve got to get in people’s faces.
“If we don’t, it will be a long day at the office, but the way we’ve trained this week I’m fully behind the boys that we’ll be full on this Friday.”
And Saints have been impressive in recovering from setbacks in the past...
“We’ve done it loads, but at the moment it’s too much.
“We’re one on, one off at the moment and we want to be full on every week.
“That’s what we’re trying to get back to and it’s next focus, next job.
“It’s been a very good training week, a very good buzz around the place and we’re looking forward to it.”
How have you been finding the captaincy since taking over from Dylan Hartley during the summer?
“I enjoy it, I like it.
“There’s so many people around, everyone talks.
“Sometimes I don’t say a word because I don’t need to.
“You can sometimes have too many voices so I can just sit back and listen because it’s quite nice hearing other people talk and getting their views on things.
“Captaincy is brilliant, it’s pretty easy and at the end of the day, I focus on playing rugby.
“I want to be a good rugby player and the captain’s decisions I take after that.”
It doesn’t appear to have changed anything for you, as you’re still rotating with Kahn Fotuali’i...
“It was always going to be like that when Jim (Mallinder) offered it to me.
“Kahn’s a phenomenal player and you can’t keep him out of the game.
“He had a very good game against Irish, kept us ticking and got us back in the game with a good kick for George (North).
“I’m still learning from him, we still have a very good relationship and it’s about making sure that come the weekend I come on with 20 minutes to go and add energy.
“On the flip side, when he comes on he does it as well.”