Saints have a ‘great opportunity’ in Exeter showdown

Alan Dickens (picture: Kirsty Edmonds)
Alan Dickens (picture: Kirsty Edmonds)

Alan Dickens feels the Saints players have reacted well to the initial changes he has tried to make since taking over as interim head coach.

Attack coach Dickens stepped up last week following the departure of director of rugby Jim Mallinder.

Saints lost 32-15 to Ospreys in the Champions Cup clash at the Liberty Stadium but they were shorn of several stars for a game that didn’t carry too much meaning for the away side.

They were already setting their sights on this Saturday’s Aviva Premiership encounter against Exeter Chiefs before the trip to Swansea.

And Dickens hopes the preparations he has put in place will pay off against the champions.

“We’ve talked about how we want to approach this game this week and it’s a great opportunity,” Dickens said.

“We’re here at the Gardens and if we implement what we’ve talked about this week I’m pretty confident.

“We have to change things, whether that’s in the gym, the sessions, it’s an opportunity we’ve got that we can change.

“My main role is to bring the players with me and the rest of the coaches.

“I’ll speak to the senior players, the younger players and if we’re going to get better we’ve got to work hard and stick together.

“I’ve tried to freshen things up during the past two weeks.

“Last week was tough in terms of what happened, but we’re a week further on now and ultimately you’ve got to ask the players how we’ve changed and if they’re energised.

“They have told me it’s been working for them.”

Dickens admits it was tough to see Mallinder leave his role after 10 years in charge.

The former scrum-half said: “He’s been pretty loyal to me so I’m never going to knock Jim.

“He gave me my first crack at professionalism. I was a teacher for two years and at 25 he took me on at Sale.

“During the back end of my career, he brought me here for my final couple of years of playing. A lot of that time was spent on the bench, but he brought me back.

“And then he gave me the chance to go into the Academy role and step up to the first team.

“I owe a lot to Jim.”

The board have opted to put their faith in the remaining coaches for the weeks to come as potential short and long-term options are assessed.

And Dickens said: “It’s professional sport and what we can control is winning some games.

“At the moment, the board are sticking with us, they’ve asked us to do a job and we’ll do it the best we can.

“I’m a pretty laid-back bloke and it’s the club’s choice how quickly things are sorted.

“I’ve been asked to do a job and I’ll do it to the best of my ability.”

Dickens drafted in England defence coach Paul Gustard to do a session at Saints earlier this week.

He explained: “We know what Paul Gustard brings to England, we know what he brings to Saracens.

“I played with Paul Gustard at Saracens so it’s a relationship I’ve had with him for a long time.

“It’s not the first time he’s been in. He came in towards the back end of last season and we’ve got a good relationship with the RFU coaches. That’s not just from the first-team level, that’s right down to the Under-18s and the pathway.

“It’s my decision to get him in.”