Ferguson impressed with 'angry' Saints front row forwards

Matt Ferguson has been happy with Saints' front row forwards
Matt Ferguson has been happy with Saints' front row forwards

Scrum guru Matt Ferguson believes the current front row competition at Saints is driving their 'pretty angry' players to new heights.

Saints opted to rotate their entire front row for the game against Bath last Saturday, just seven days after smashing Sale Sharks 67-17 at Franklin's Gardens.

And the move worked as the black, green and gold competed well up front before eventually earning a hard-fought 27-26 victory on home soil.

It has been a feature of the good recent form of Saints that they are able to outlast opposition sides on a regular basis.

And it helps that whatever front row forwards the leave on the bench are able to contribute to the game in a positive manner late on.

"What we've found is that whatever front row we pick, the others come on pretty angry and prove a point, which is exactly what we want," said assistant coach Ferguson.

"For me as a coach of that area, with Ehren's (Painter) injury, Hilly's (Paul Hill) injury, Jamal (Ford-Robinson) being injured, we haven't had the competition we wanted in that area but since Christmas we've managed to get a number of boys fit and be able to select the right player for the right game.

"We've also been able to make sure our training replicates what we want players to do.

"Both front rows for us last weekend showed why it's a very hard selection at the moment."

Hill was handed a rare start against Bath, impressing before putting pen to paper on a new contract yesterday.

"Hilly had his long injury lay-off, came back, had a good performance at Gloucester (in November) and then just dropped away a bit," Ferguson said.

"But he came back and managed the requirements of him really well.

"It was great to see him ball in hand and I thought some of the set piece work he did was good as well."

Another player who has not had much game time this season is flanker James Haskell.

But he came back into the starting side last Saturday, playing 50 minutes before being replaced.

"You always know what you're going to get with Hask," Ferguson said. "There was a huge amount of physicality and a huge amount of effort.

"It was great to see him out there and he had a huge smile on his face.

"One thing's for sure: if Hask carries into your or you carry into Hask, there's going to be a big collision."

One player who really appears to have improved under the tutelage of Ferguson and forwards coach Phil Dowson is Francois van Wyk.

The South African prop has emerged as a real rival for Alex Waller at loosehead and recently signed a new deal at Saints.

"For me, in terms of the players in my group, Francois is on one of the biggest curves in terms of improvement," Ferguson said.

"I remember watching him from a distance last year and seeing the opportunities he had and he's converted into a prop so his actual rugby skills are pretty high anyway.

"He understands the game well, as most South Africans do, and he's worked incredibly hard on his scrummaging over the past six months. The past three or four months have shown that when those things come together, he's in a really strong position.

"And he has to be because he's fighting some really strong competition in Alex Waller, Will Davis and Toby Trinder.

"We've now got four fit looseheads training day in, day out now."

Saints have now won four of their past five games in the Gallagher Premiership, but they face their toughest test on Saturday, travelling to champions Saracens.

"You have to say that they probably have one of the most all-court games there is and that's reflected in where they sit in the league (Saracens are second)," Ferguson said.

"Their game is based on an incredible desire to defend and that often brings them penalties that then go into the corner with a hugely powerful drive, one of the heaviest scrums.

"You think about their physicality but then you remember they've got some of the best back three players in the northern hemisphere, that ball in hand can cut you up on a very fast pitch.

"It's very clear that whatever facet of the game Saracens use to take you on, they're going to be pretty accurate and powerful.

"What we've got to make sure we do is to have answers to that but also put our game on the park.

"The Clermont performance away (Saints lost 48-40 there in January) is a pretty clear example of us being able to put our game out there, matching what is coming against us the other way."