Dowson’s delighted to have key role with Boyd’s new-look Saints

Phil Dowson is Saints' forwards coach this season (picture: Dave Ikin)
Phil Dowson is Saints' forwards coach this season (picture: Dave Ikin)

At the end of last season, Saints resembled a bashed-up car that needed some work to get it back up to speed.

A team that once purred has stuttered significantly during the past three seasons, slipping from fifth to seventh to ninth in the Premiership standings having topped the table in 2015.

Enough was enough.

A new driver was needed, someone who could restore the club to its former glories.

The man given that task is Hurricanes head coach Chris Boyd, who will look to spark his new charges into life and step on the accelerator at Franklin’s Gardens this season.

And to help him do that, he has assembled a young, hungry coaching team who he believes also possess the knowledge and ability needed to develop.

A key member of the new-look management staff will be Phil Dowson.

The 36-year-old has been handed the role of forwards coach, taking over the position from his former long-serving mentor, Dorian West.

And Dowson said: “It’s huge.

“The original plan was to look after the Academy and then I spent half of the season on the defensive side of the wall, with very mixed results.

“I learned a huge amount last year and I’m very keen to keep learning.

“Chris asked what I want to get out of the game and I told him I want to win things because that’s what punctuated my playing career and I want it to punctuate my coaching career.

“I also want to develop as a person and help all of the guys we’ve got in our care, whether they’re British Lions or Academy lads.

“I want to help across the board.

“I’m very flattered that Chris saw that potential in me and I just need to repay that faith with hard work and pick up as much knowledge as I can.”

A total of 17 players have left Saints this summer, with the likes of club legends Stephen Myler and Ben Foden among the group heading for the Franklin’s Gardens exit door.

It is a huge turnover of players, with Boyd desperate to bring some freshness to Saints, cutting his squad size and focusing on developing players.

It is an encouraging new era and one that draws one word in particular from Dowson.

“Excitement - that’s the word we’ve all been talking about,” he said.

“We’ve got the excitement of getting back on the horse and getting stuck into a new regime.

“I’m very excited about how we approach next season and try to develop the new players in our squad.

“I’d say the pressure’s not off because at any point it can go the other way, but I was just really pleased that Northampton had found someone who is forward-thinking and shrewd and who is a winner.

“He has all the traditional qualities and strengths of the club.”

There is no doubt that the challenge that lies in front of everyone at Saints is a big one.

Clubs such as Saracens, Exeter and Wasps have become tough to stop over recent years.

But the prospect of getting back on the same level as them and eventually surpassing them is something that no one at the Gardens will shy away from.

Instead, the players and management recognise this is a great opportunity to show what they are capable of.

“There’s lots that needs improving and lots that needs doing,” said Dowson, who made 187 appearances for Saints between 2009 and 2015.

“We can make huge strides in how we want to play the game.

“It’s a good place to be, but we’re also aware that we’ve got all sorts of work to do before we get back to where we want to be.”

But with Super Rugby title winner Boyd in charge, anything appears possible.

And Dowson can’t hide how impressed he has been with the new man, who was at the Gardens to oversee the return to pre-season training last week.

“Chris has set his stall out very early in terms of expectations of what we’re doing,” Dowson explained.

“We’ve got new players, new members of staff and it’s been a good start to the year to get everyone back in, working together and pulling in the right direction.

“It’s been really good.

“Chris is obviously working incredibly hard because he’s currently looking after two teams (his club commitments with the Hurricanes will continue until the end of the Super Rugby season).

“He’s putting in plenty of graft and it’s brilliant to have him here.

“I met him a few times in the build-up to the season and it’s brilliant to see him talking to the lads and watch the response he gets from those boys.

“It’s great to hear what he thinks will be fundamental and what he sees as important in the game and the culture of the club.

“He’s very shrewd, he’s also got a cracking sense of humour and he wants us to enjoy ourselves.

“He knows that as well as working hard and winning games, we have to enjoy the opportunity that we’ve all been given to be in this environment, which is huge.

“It’s a long season and if you’re not enjoying it, it becomes tricky, monotonous, chlostrophobic and everything else.”

Boyd is clearly a man who prides himself on bringing the best out of individuals to ensure they function as a team.

And he will have no shortage of enthusiasm from Dowson, who is desperate to learn, to ensure he becomes a top coach in his own right in the years to come.

“Everyone’s keen to get stuck in and improve,” Dowson said.

“People come from different backgrounds. Alan (Dickens) and I have been here a long time and everyone else has come in and is learning about each other and how things are.

“The thing I remember as a player is that you’re watching other players play and you try to take bits and pieces from their game.

“You think about whether it’s applicable to yourself and whether you’ve got the physical ability to bring it to your game.

“I think it’s the same with coaching.

“I learned a huge amount from Dorian (West) and over at Worcester I learned a lot from Sam Vesty in terms of delivery, content and how we do things.

“I’m always trying to improve and although I haven’t got a lot of experience, I’d always back myself in terms of energy and being able to give the guys the frame of mind to play games and win games.”

Dowson will be working closely with new assistant coach Matt Ferguson, who has been drafted in to provide extra knowledge, particularly of the scrum.

He has spent 12 months working at London Irish and has also mentored the England women’s team for three years.

“He’s in and working hard,” Dowson said.

“It was his 40th birthday last week so he was getting a fair amount of stick.

“He seems to have really settled in well.

“All these guys are looking for houses, getting to know their way around Northampton so Paul Shields, myself and Alan Dickens are trying to give them as much support as possible while they bed in and get their feet under the table.”