Phil Dowson has admitted his frustration at having to take a back seat at Saints this season.
But the experienced flanker, known as ‘the squad father’ by his team-mates, is relishing the chance to return to the starting picture when the LV= Cup kicks off this weekend.
Dowson has dropped down the pecking order at Franklin’s Gardens, with Tom Wood, Calum Clark, Samu Manoa and summer signing Jon Fisher impressing.
The 33-year-old is yet to make a start this season, though he has made an impact from the bench, scoring a second-half try in the recent Champions Cup defeat at Racing Metro.
And with Saints shorn of their international players for the next few weeks, Dowson is looking forward to getting back in the first 15 groove, setting his sights on the clash with former club Newcastle Falcons at the Gardens on Saturday.
“It’s frustrating not starting, it’s not something I’m used to, but it pushes you on” said Dowson.
“It’s competitive, one of the reasons you enjoy it is because of the quality.
“That’s why the LV coming up is good for me personally, it keeps you on your toes and I feel fresh as well because I haven’t started as many games as usual so I feel pretty good.
“With more players leaving on internationals – it’s great news for those guys and a testament to the club’s culture – other guys have to step up.
“What’s also exciting for me as an older player is to see the younger players come in and experience the home crowd for the first time.
Saints, like many other clubs, use the LV= Cup to blood youngsters and they have done so to good effect in recent seasons.
Jim Mallinder’s men have reached three of the past five finals and were beaten 15-8 by Exeter Chiefs in last season’s showpiece at Sandy Park.
“The young guys and everyone who was involved last year felt that we put up a good run and that we didn’t actually carry it on and in the final produce the quality that we needed,” said Dowson. “And that’s not taking anything away from Exeter, they were very good at home.
“But of course we want to go one better and the challenge is to wipe that clean, start all over again, learn the lessons from that final and from all the games leading up to it and carry on growing as a squad.”
Dowson is looking forward to steering some of his younger team-mates around the park this weekend and knows there is plenty of talent available to the Saints coaches.
“There’s players like Teimana Harrison, who I don’t like to talk up too much because he’ll probably take my contract at some point, but he’s very robust and he plays that very aggressive game,” said Dowson.
“He’s a great bloke as well who’s got the attitude and the aptitude. He’s certainly one that I will be looking out for and looking forward to playing with.
“In the second row there’s Alex Woolford who is just getting to grips with calling the lineout so he will be under a lot of pressure and it will be interesting to see how he copes with that but he again is an intelligent lad who understands the game.”
Be part of the rugby family at the LV= Cup Final at Franklin’s Gardens, Northampton on Sunday, March 22. Visit www.northamptonsaints.co.uk for tickets.