What Chris Boyd said at Saints' Monday night season ticket holders' forum

Saints held their now traditional season ticket holders' forum online on Monday evening.

By Tom Vickers
Tuesday, 16th November 2021, 1:30 pm
Chris Boyd
Chris Boyd

Chairman John White, CEO Mark Darbon and director of rugby Chris Boyd were all present, answering questions from supporters.

Here's what was asked of Boyd and what he said in response...

Q: How do you feel the season has started for Saints?

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A: "We have 24 league games in a season and we divide them into blocks of four. The first block you'd think we'd be pretty happy with because we won three from four, but after we beat Exeter at Exeter, we were disappointed to have a poor performance against Wasps.

"We'd have taken those three wins and that was okay, and we had a good start to the next one, against Worcester, but then it was massively disappointing to have that performance and result against Leicester.

"The Sale performance wasn't great either. We've had particular trouble with them over the past few years. The referee came back and apologised about the first try they scored.

"We're certainly not happy with the outcome of the start to the season and we've got a lot more to come in terms of performance."

Q: Saints are planning to build a new indoor training facility at cinch Stadium at Franklin's Gardens - how important will that be for the club?

A: "It's massive. Once the fields out the back get wet and boggy, you can't get any quality training.

"We're having to bus up to the University up to three times a week so this will make a massive difference.

"Speaking to the guys from other clubs who have built the same thing over the past couple of years, they say they've found it indispensable and wondered why they didn't do it years ago.

"It's something the players are looking forward to."

Q: Do you feel this team has now truly found its identity?

A: "I think that's something that's evolving all the time.

"We're starting to understand our DNA but it's been a bit of a slow burn.

"Things shift each year but the group now understand what we need to do on the field, how we need to play and what that means.

"It's still evolving and we're still a young squad but we can't keep saying we're a young squad because at some stage that tree has got to bear fruit.

"I think we're heading in the right direction."

Q: How do you feel about losing quite a few players to international duty?

A: "It's great that players get recognised to play for their country.

"We have to take it into account carefully because it does put a bit of a dent in your own numbers.

"This autumn, two of the three games they miss are cup games, which we play our youngsters in anyway, so there was only really the Sale game we lost players for.

"It is inconvenient when they go away but the support we give our players to play for their country is well paid back in the support they give to the club.

"It's just part of what we do.

"Out of the 10 guys who got picked for international duty, only Dan Biggar was an international before he came to the club.

"The other guys have got their opportunity after being here and that's a positive thing for us."

Q: Are there any plans to play any fixtures against other clubs who regret the loss of A League fixtures on Monday nights or is it just a case of sending players to Bedford?

A: "Firstly, in the absence of an A League, our relationship with Bedford is mutually beneficial and it's working fantastically well.

"We've had up to eight players and as low as two at Bedford in one week - it depends as our needs vary.

"It's a mechanism to get boys who are not getting game time some minutes.

"Do I think it's the best way to develop rugby in England? Probably not, but our relationship with Bedford is better than what anyone else has got.

"It's the biggest challenge for the RFU: how they have a talent pathway between Under-18s to Under-20s to the England national team.

"Somewhere in there, there has to be a competition that is below the Premiership, whether that's an Under-19 competition on Monday nights or an Under-23 competition that players curtain raisers or before main games.

"I'm not sure what it is, but there has to be some sort of national mechanism to grow our players from 18s, 20s to the senior environment."

Q: Has ringfencing made the Premiership a better or worse product?

A: "You get a better product but less dramatic.

"English society loves relegation and the drama.

"A few years ago there was a game to see who would make the top four and one to see who got relegated and the press went to the one with relegation on the line.

"So there seems to be a love of that dramatic part of life, but as far as having a relegation the stakes are very high for the team that gets relegated.

"It's a better product but there's no doubt there's a drama and theatre about relegation."

Q: What is the process for signing new players?

A: "We currently have our squad mapped out to 2025/26 season, taking into account the contracts that exist plus what sits in the Academy.

"Paul Shields (head of recruitment and retention) does a really good job in retention and recruitment and he does a lot of the leg work.

"A lot of the decisions are made in a committee between coaches, we get the strength and conditioning involved to check.

"We sit down and look at where we're missing people.

"We had a meeting last Thursday that was three hours long that was identifying what the squad is next year, who's out of contract and who we think we might let go.

"If we let those people go and free up X number of pounds, where can that be best spent on the group, taking into account who's going next year and the year after and what's coming through the Academy.

"It's almost a full-time job and one of the very different things from the UK to New Zealand is the pond we fish in.

"The ponds we fish in are vast.

"Looking to fill a second openside flanker position, it's about what's coming through the Academy, when's he going to be ready. If he's not going to be ready for a couple of years, you look to the market.

"We look at the UK market, Australia, Canada, Fiji and other places and it's a worldwide search.

"Shieldsy had a lot of contacts in a lot of areas and it's a critical process.

"You don't get it right every time and every club will tell you they've had very expensive players on their books that they've got virtually no return from and they have guys who are very cheap who play regularly that they get amazing value out of.

"You never get it all right but there's a lot of work that goes in to get the balance of your team right.

"We have to rely on our Academy more now because, like for everyone else, the squad sizes have gone down and for every Academy guy who is in your squad you can afford to buy someone for a little bit more.

"It's a big task and we get a budget set from Mark (Darbon), we chew it over and away we go.

"Shieldsy and Mark then hopefully make the deal.

"You're either a development club or a recruitment club or somewhere in between.

"Our mantra is young, English and high potential and where we can't get that, we need to backfill from the rest of the world.

"It gets really difficult sometimes and one example was when Cobus Reinach chose to go to Montpellier.

"His bank manager wasn't disappointed but we were really disappointed when he left.

"We always knew we needed to find a space for Alex Mitchell to come through and develop and you've got to be careful because if you do promote yourself as a development club, you've got to be brave enough to give people opportunity.

"(Fraser) Dingwall is starting to flourish, (George) Furbank is flourishing, (Tommy) Freeman is flourishing, Hutch (Rory Hutchinson) came through the back door.

"It doesn't mean it will create instant success because they are still young in a lot of ways and it can be a little bit painful in the short term.

"You can go out to the market and buy instant success, and other clubs do that, but at the moment it's not our chosen model."

Q: What do you think of having 13 teams in the league and having bye weeks this season?

A: "Odd numbers are fantastic because it's great to be able to tell your players at the start of the year when they can definitely have a week off.

"It's gold dust because the only other times get weeks off when you have even numbers of teams is when you drop out of Europe or on a rotational basis.

"No one can play every game so you have to break it down and I think having bye weeks is great.

"I'm hugely in favour of bye weeks and it really helps."

Q: The defence has shown weakness this season. Will this be addressed in the coming weeks and months?

A: "We get comparative statistics and we're in the top half of the defensive stats for everything.

"The lowest thing is points conceded but statistically we're actually one of the best sides in the competition.

"We've got the lowest number of missed tackles, the lowest number of linebreaks, the second fewest number of offloads against us, the second lowest ruckspeed for the opposition against us.

"We've conceded too many tries on the basis of ill discipline and bad decisions.

"I think Ian Vass is potentially a world class defence coach, he's got that grumpy, gritty defensive mentality. He pulls his hair out when we concede one missed tackle.

"We obviously had a blow-out against our mates up the road, Tigers, and we conceded 30 points against Sale, but that was from a try that should never have been allowed because it was a blatant obstruction, a brain explosion from the team just after half-time because we tried a chip from in front of our own posts, and they scored in the 82nd minute.

"I think our defence is improving all the time.

"We'll never be happy with any area of our game but it's an area that has got better."

Q: Do you think there has been a big shift in how open players are about their mental health?

A: "There has and I would say it comes from a generational shift and (club chaplain) Jez (Safford), who does a wonderful job for us.

"Jez is absolutely fantastic when people get into difficulties in that space and he's a wonderful ear.

"Mark Hopley, for the youngsters, is an incredibly empathetic person, incredibly warm.

"We have a very open environment and we have a lot of fun and laughter here.

"It's not a hard military environment - there's a lot of time for us to enjoy each other's company, and it's encouraged.

"From a performance psychology point of view we can probably do better in terms of building a resilience of what's to come so we could be accused of being a bit reactive rather than proactive at the top end of the cliff.

"We have people through the Saints Foundation and through the club that we can reach out to.

"We can always do more in the space but we're doing a pretty decent job."

Q: What was behind the decision to not have co-captains this season and how well do you think Lewis Ludlam is doing as skipper?

A: "Lewis has been great. He's been really good.

"Alex Waller has been happier in the support role rather than outright leadership.

"He did a really good job when others were coming in behind him but Lewis has been outstanding.

"Lewis brings a lot of passion, a lot of emotion and he's deeply connected to the club.

"Fraser Dingwall has also grown a lot in a leadership role with Lewis. One leads the heads and the other leads the hearts.

"Lewis is a good man who will play a lot of games for the Saints and he could easily be the captain here for another 10 years.

"Fraser has got as good a leadership bracket as I've seen. He understands the game, he's a deep thinker, he's very intelligent and every bit of talent Fraser has got, he wrings out of himself. He's a warrior and a very good complement to the wild man Luds, who brings a slightly different set of skills.

"Dingers is a top man."

Q: Is it likely we'll see Dylan Hartley back at the club in a coaching capacity?

A: "From my discussions with Dylan, he's got a lot of fingers in a lot of pies so tying himself down to a regular coaching gig at the Saints or anywhere else I don't think is his modus operandi.

"He's been in and out of the club for a couple of things and he wondered down with Rex, his little fella, for captain's run the other day and had lunch with us.

"We still keep in touch with Dylan and I drop some pickled beetroot in to him now and again because he's got a very nice garden where he is.

"I don't think that (coaching) is in his plan at the moment."

Q: When will this side mature into one that can contend for the title?

A: "Not fast enough for me. It would have been yesterday!

"The reality is that we're not complete yet - we're still on a journey of development.

"At some stage the tree has got to bear some fruit otherwise you have to go in a different direction.

"We're really confident that the foundations we're putting in place are solid and hopefully we'd like to think that's going to bear fruit shortly."