Phil Dowson’s time as a coach at Saints has been a real rollercoaster ride.
But it feels that the former back row forward is now on an upward curve after a hugely testing first season.
Dowson took on a role as transition coach at Franklin’s Gardens during the summer of 2017, having just retired from playing at Worcester Warriors.
But Dowson could have been forgiven for wondering what he had walked into as Jim Mallinder was dismissed before 2018 began.
Dowson was pushed into a role as defence coach as Saints struggled to keep other teams out.
They endured a horror season, finishing ninth in the Premiership standings, having been humbled on several occasions at home and in the Champions Cup.
But when Chris Boyd arrives from the Hurricanes last summer, the Kiwi boss gave highly-rated Dowson the role of forwards coach, which had been occupied by Dorian West for so long.
And there were signs of the decision bringing rewards as the season went on, with Saints starting to improve up front.
They eventually finished fourth following a fine campaign in England’s top division, and they also won the Premiership Rugby Cup, beating Saracens in the Franklin’s Gardens final.
They pushed eventual champions Clermont Auvergne to the French team’s limit in the Challenge Cup quarter-final at Stade Marcel Michelin.
And Dowson will now be much happier with the way his coaching journey is progressing, having learned so much during his two years in the Saints management team.
“It’s a big learning curve, especially in the first year when there were lots of changes,” said the 37-year-old, who made 186 appearances for Saints between 2009 and 2015.
“Jim left, I was pushed into a coaching role where I was defence coach rather than transition coach and we conceded more points than any Northampton side ever has done before at Saracens. That was a tough day.
“But in terms of last year, I was very lucky to have coaches like Sam Vesty and Matt Ferguson who helped me. Sam obviously did similar to me and went in from playing.
“It’s about taking advice and not taking things too personally.
“As a player you can be single-minded and only worry about one person, so as a coach it’s about getting used to a different approach.
“I’ve enjoyed that experience and hopefully I can continue to learn.”
Saints won 11 of their 22 regular-season games in the Premiership in 2018/19, finishing fourth in a league propped up by a Newcastle team who had made the play-offs in the previous campaign.
And with ambitious London Irish, who have splashed the cash, coming up, Dowson knows it’s only going to get tougher this time round.
“It’s going to be even more competitive this year,” Dowson said. “You see who London Irish have signed and the quality of their players, and we know Stephen Myler’s already down there so it’s not going to get any easier.
“You look at the number of signings Sale have made with the South African internationals coming in and they’ve obviously got a very strong squad.
“But all the squads will be strong. All we can do is focus on ourselves and our home form is going to be absolutely paramount to our success.”