Dowson savouring the challenge of running Saints' forward pack

Phil Dowson was given the role of Saints forwards coach during the summer (picture: Kirsty Edmonds)
Phil Dowson was given the role of Saints forwards coach during the summer (picture: Kirsty Edmonds)

This weekend, Phil Dowson's Saints forward pack face one of the biggest challenges around.

Somehow, they must find a way to deal with a dominant Saracens side who battered the black, green and gold on four separate occasions last season.

But the message at Franklin's Gardens this week has been one focused on looking forward not back.

And that is the direction Dowson's men will be hoping to go in at Franklin's Gardens on Saturday afternoon.

Tussling with Saracens will be a real test of the Saints mettle.

And it will be another good learning curve for Dowson as he continues to mentor the forwards at the Gardens, having been given the big gig by new boss Chris Boyd this summer.

"It's good, another challenge," former transition and defence coach Dowson said of his new role.

"I really enjoyed defence last year and we had some mixed results on that front but I learned a huge amount at the end of last season.

"It's a learning curve now in terms of how the forwards move and work and how that training week looks.

"I'm learning all the time and I'm enjoying it.

"It's a fairly similar workload to last season, but second season into coaching, you realise how lucky you were to be playing.

"It's long days and the guys are working hard but the environment in the office is great with Alan (Dickens), Sam (Vesty), Matt (Ferguson), and Boydy's a lot of fun as well.

"Although we're knocking out long hours, it's a good craic.

"I see the lads drive out at half one and I'm swearing at them. They're driving out and I've got to watch three Sarries games or the Wandies game, but I'm passionate about it, I love it.

"It's just getting used to retirement, getting into coaching and the real world."

Following the departure of long-serving forwards coach Dorian West at the end of last season, Dowson moved into the role.

And he spent the summer doing everything he could to acquire the necessary knowledge to turn Saints into a formidable forward pack this season.

"I'm trying to get feedback from the players and I'm new to the job so I've got to keep analysing what I'm doing, whether it's good bad or indifferent and make sure I evolve my coaching style and techniques," said Dowson, who retired from playing in 2017.

"I'm learning from different people, coaches and players from different sports, all that kind of stuff.

"I went away to the Blue Bulls in Pretoria and the Sharks in Durban and had a week in each of those environments.

"I was in every meeting, watching how they did different things and I watched their games as well.

"It was really interesting and I met up with Mario Ledesma when I was in Durban because he was coaching the Jaguares.

"He's now coaching Argentina and it was really good to sit with him and it's really good the club have invested in me to improve my knowledge and skill base.

"To see different environments is really healthy for me and will hopefully improve me as well.

"Chris Boyd organised the meetings and the club organised the travel so it was a really good experience."

Now Dowson will look to use what he learned to take down Saracens on Saturday.

He was part of a coaching team that saw their side well beaten by the Barnet-based team so often last season.

But Dowson, who was a successful back row forward for Saints between 2009 and 2015, said: "Chris said in post-game last week that it's a totally different season, a totally different team, a totally different environment and although there are lessons to be taken from the previous games, we've got to make sure we're always looking forward.

"We've got to concentrate on what we're trying to do, how we want to play the game and how we feel we can beat Saracens.

"It can't be about vendettas and revenge - it has to be about moving forward and making sure we improve week on week.

"I think we improved on Gloucester to Harlequins and now it's about whether we can improve from Harlequins to hopefully get a result against Sarries.

"It would be cracking if we got another home victory here to build momentum and take on the road to Bath.

"It would be a huge victory if we cross the line this weekend but if things don't go to plan, we have to stick to our task and learn and improve each week so we get to the point where we're winning every week."

So just why did Saints suffer so much against Saracens last season?

"I don't know, there's probably a lot of things and I'd hate to speculate," Dowson said.

"It just became a bogey side that ran away with certain games before we'd even been in them.

"We know we have to start well at the weekend to make sure none of those memories resurface, but it's a totally different year and we need to make sure we worry more about ourselves than the ghosts of the past."