Saints Q&A: Tom Vickers talks to director of rugby Phil Dowson

Phil DowsonPhil Dowson
Phil Dowson
​It was an eventful first season as Saints director of rugby for Phil Dowson.

He sat down with us to discuss a variety of topics as he looked back on a campaign that saw the black, green and gold finish fourth in the Gallagher Premiership standings.

Here is our question and answer session with the Saints boss…

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Q: What did you make of your first season in charge of the Saints?

A: “Ultimately it was frustrating but what I did enjoy was the effort and the tightness of the group of lads we had.

“There were never any doubts about their buy-in, about their effort and that's really important for any team.

“Fundamentally, we wanted a bit more but we weren't consistent enough throughout the season to earn that.

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“I'm delighted with the group of players and I really enjoyed working with them, but overall we felt we left a bit out there."

Q: You had some defensively tough wins against the likes of Exeter and Leicester but also some tough defeats. What did you put that mixed form down to?

A: “You always look at your own game first and there is a change between myself and Chris (Boyd), although lots of things stayed similar, and you probably saw that in how we played in terms of the transition feeling to it at times.

“We had some good wins away from home - we were great against Leicester but poor in other places.

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“Any team or environment does respond to change - that's not always positive change, by the way - but there are clearly things we need to get better at.

“When the season is that long, with that many different periods, whether it's from a point of view of weather, players away on international duty, there are loads of different reasons why you might get those varying performances.

“Regardless of who's away, regardless of the weather, regardless of being home or away, we've got to be a bit more consistent and get more points from those games because there's not many sides who go away in a semi-final in the Premiership and win.”

Q: Did you feel like you did change things from Chris Boyd's time at the club and did you feel like you wanted to put your own stamp on it?

A: “I had to do that.

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“I was very conscious of not changing things that had been working very efficiently and I haven't done that, but there's also things I think we can do better and you do that in conjunction with the other coaches, including Boydy, by the way.

"Of course, when you're in change of it, it becomes your own and it has your own mark on it.

"There are clearly things I've learned from this season in terms of how I can get better as well.”

Q: This is your first summer of being really able to stamp your mark on the squad and there are a lot of long-serving players leaving. How have you found that and how do you feel about the change in squad for next season?

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A: “I think there's a change in squad every season and there were lads who left last summer who had been here a long time.

"Ace Tuala had been here a long time, Piers Francis had been here a long time, Teimana Harrison had been here a long time.

"Every club has had to cut its cloth accordingly with a smaller salary cap and that's probably why numbers seem to be smaller than in previous years but every year there's a changing of the guard to a degree.

"We want to keep hold of the players we think are playing really well and who are definitely going to contribute moving forward and are good value for money as well. That means, unfortunately other players have to leave.

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"Every year is different in terms of the squad size and you want to try to keep that to a minimum clearly but you also want to improve your squad and make sure you're getting better the whole time.”

Q: Do you think it's hard for fans to understand why the club can't go out and add big-name players to the squad each year like the club may have done a decade ago?

A: "Whether the fans appreciate that or not, I don't know if I'd ever get a handle on that because different fans have a different handle on the game and see things differently.

"I think the game has changed. There are clubs who have gone bust this season, which is tragic and it changes things drastically.

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"Anyone who sees that news of clubs going under would understand the situation the league is in and that rugby is in in general. It's not just the Premiership that is struggling cash wise.

"People have to take that into account but we've still got to put our best foot forward and recruit in the best manner we can.”

Q: Where is the squad at now? Do you just need that one player more following the departure of Lukhan Salakaia-Loto?

A: "I don't think you ever think we're all set because there are always so many moving parts.

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"There are players who have left and joined mid-season, Biggs (Dan Biggar) and Fin Smith for example.

"So you never quite know what's around the corner.

"The Lukhan situation changes everything again because you think we're pretty set in the six and second row department and that changes everything.

"You never think you're fully set, you're always looking for different opportunities.

"The fact we got Trevor Davison mid-season will be a real positive when he gets settled in. We've already seen what he's capable of to a degree.

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"I'm pleased with what we've done so far, but I'm also aware that the game never stops and we've got to keep pushing.”

Q: How does pre-season work this year and do you have games lined up?

A: "We've got a pre-season game against the Barbarians and I'm sure there will be some familiar faces in that group.

"There's the Barbarians game and potentially a Bedford fixture but that's still to be organised because we still haven't had clarification of what the PRC tournament looks like, which is extraordinary really.”

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Q: You must be looking forward to another season and you must feel more settled as a director of rugby now, having learned so much during your first campaign?

A: “Definitely, and the learning isn't going to stop.

"It's been a really positive year in a lot of respects and now I'm ready to attack next season.”