Saints set for 'Bath-like' battle against 'one of the most improved sides in Europe'

Scrum guru Matt Ferguson is steeling Saints for a battle against a Benetton side he believes are 'one of the most improved sides in Europe'.

Saturday, 23rd November 2019, 7:00 am
Saints were beaten at Bath earlier this month

Ferguson likens the Italians to Bath, who are the only team to beat Saints in the Gallagher Premiership so far this season.

Stuart Hooper's side eventually overpowered Chris Boyd's team in the final half an hour of the game at The Rec earlier this month.

Bath took Saints on in the scrum and at lineout time, forcing Ben Franks and Paul Hill into the sin bin before eventually winning 22-13.

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Benetton play a similarly direct brand of rugby, and Ferguson knows just how tough they will be to beat.

"This is probably the most Bath-like team," Ferguson said.

"People talked about the threat Lyon were going to give us but they posed a very different threat to Bath did.

"Looking at Benetton's last game and the way they progressed last season with a Kiwi coach (Kieran Crowley), there was that directness, that physicality, but also that real front-foot style they play.

"Out of all the teams we play, if you were going to compare them to a Premiership team, they're Bath.

"We learned some lessons at Bath in the Premiership and that is a really good sense check for the boys about what we're going to face on Saturday.

"It was hugely frustrating at Bath and it got to a stage where we were trying to fill a hole in a dam and it just kept cracking in various places.

"But you've got to be able to come out of those pressure situations, keep your head and change the perception.

"Sometimes it goes your way, sometimes it doesn't.

"We were in exactly the same position here against Lyon with five or six scrums and got away with it.

"We've learned our lessons and we know we're going to face that physicality, momentum, coming round the corner and motivation around set piece this weekend.

"I thought Benetton played really well for large parts of the game against Leinster and going to Leinster is no easy task.

"All these things are really good because it shows this old-school perception about it being routine to win against Italian teams is just old hat now.

"I'd go as far as to say Benetton are one of the most improved teams in Europe over the past three years and because of that, we know this is going to be Champions Cup rugby again at the very highest level.

"I don't think the game against Leinster was Benetton stepping up, it's where they've been in their league over the past few years.

"They've got as many internationals in their squad as we have and Boydy's been really sharp this week, right from the first minute to say we're going to have to be right on our mettle.

"We didn't play as well as we thought we had to when we beat Lyon and we're not going to get that chance too often in the Champions Cup.

"In the past 10 games we've only won both halves of rugby once and that shocked me when he (Boyd) brought that up.

"We only won the first and second half against Tigers in the PRC so if we're going to go to Treviso and win the game, we're going to have to win both halves."

But how can Saints, who also found themselves in hot water close to their own line against Lyon last Sunday, compete if Benetton crank up the heat up front?

"We put ourselves in those positions pretty much every week and we've done sets of eight scrums in a row this week," Ferguson said.

"It's when you rely on your process at the highest level, and not only is it your process but it's the repetition of your process.

"A single scrum is mentally and physically testing on its own but when you have those scenarios where it's a reset or penalty and another scrum, you're doing the same thing straight after.

"We've got a few things in our armoury.

"There were five different offences at Bath and each of those are perceptions of the referee of the actions Bath or Saints are doing.

"But it's been and gone, there are lessons from that and I'm not sure the referee's assessor was always agreeing with the referee."