Phil Dowson’s Saints farewell interview: part one

Phil Dowson (left) celebrates the LV= Cup triumph at Sixways (pictures: Linda Dawson)
Phil Dowson (left) celebrates the LV= Cup triumph at Sixways (pictures: Linda Dawson)

Phil Dowson was on the team bus back to Newcastle when his mobile phone rang.

It was Dorian West.

The Saints forwards coach had just seen his team suffer their only home league defeat of the 2008/09 season.

The Falcons team, skippered by Dowson, had scrapped to earn a 19-13 victory at Franklin’s Gardens.

And the performance of the flanker only served to increase Saints’ appetite to secure his services.

So, West picked up the phone in one final act that would ensure Dowson completed his move south.

“Basically I’d looked around a couple of clubs and Newcastle at the time had gone from being bottom to going on an eight-game winning streak,” explained the 33-year-old.

“It was a record for the Falcons at the time and Dorian said “I can see what you’re doing, you’re going around each club so you can work out how to beat them and doing them over away from home”.

“I’d had a look round Northampton before that game so that was quite amusing.

“I was very close to having signed by then anyway and that was a funny moment.

“ And eventually it probably helped me settle into the club because I could turn around to (Neil) Best and (Soane) Tonga’uiha when they gave me some stick and remind them that we stuck one on them the previous year.”

Fast forward six years and Dowson is packing his bags and heading to Worcester Warriors ahead of next season.

He will throw memories of his 186 Saints appearances into the boxes he takes to his new abode, looking back fondly on his time at the Gardens.

And how glad he is that he took the brave step of switching to Northampton from Newcastle in the summer of 2009.

“I was club captain at Falcons and it was difficult, but I knew I needed a change,” Dowson reflected.

“I knew Jim (Mallinder) and Dorian from playing with the Saxons and Lee Dickson had already spent a year at Saints after moving from Newcastle.

“I knew it was a club going places because they’d just finished seventh or eighth in the league and every year since that we’ve been in the 
Premiership semi-finals, an LV= Cup final, European finals.

“Every game we went into I felt if we played properly we could win.

“It’s not a lot of times you say that in professional sport, but I felt the Northampton side had the character to go to places like Ulster, Leinster, Castres and win games.

“The character of the squad is what I loved about the club more than anything else.

“People like Neil Best, Roger Wilson, Jimmy Downey, Ashy (Chris Ashton) right the way through to now with Jon Fisher, Corbs (Alex Corbisiero) and all the guys coming through now. It’s a club with a huge amount of character.”

The role Dowson played in building that camaraderie should not be underestimated.

He embodied what Saints stood for, leaving as indelible a mark on the club as the club left on him.

And his role in helping the club overcome heartache to claim silverware was key.

In 2010, he lifted the first major domestic honour at the ground that will be home next season: Sixways.

It was a key moment in the development of the team under Mallinder and Dowson, the most able of deputies to club captain Dylan Hartley, savoured it.

“That was brilliant,” said Dowson. “It was the first major domestic trophy Northampton had won so it was a fantastic day.”

And Saints were to have many more fantastic days in the season that followed.

Not only did they reach a second successive Premiership semi-final - they had lost the 2010 final-four game at home to Saracens - but they made the Heineken Cup final.

It was a run that will live long in the memory of Dowson, who hasn’t let the 33-22 defeat in the final to Leinster, who came back from 22-6 down at half-time, cloud his thoughts.

“That was a great year,” he said. “Going unbeaten until the second half of the final sticks in my memory as just incredibly enjoyable.

“We went to places like Cardiff, Edinburgh that year, Ulster and Perpignan at home - I was man of the match in the Perpignan game.

“It was just hugely enjoyable and we had a real crack at it. You can’t ask for much more than that.

“We’d hit a rich vein of form. Tonga’uiha was incredible, Roger Wilson was playing great rugby and we had the likes of Juandre Kruger as well. It was great to be a part of that.”

Dowson had scored the first try of the game in that memorable match at the Millennium Stadium.

As usual, he had led from the front, and though it wasn’t to be, he had once again given everything for the cause.

And in 2012 his talents were finally recognised by England, with Dowson making his Test debut in a Six Nations win in Scotland.

He started against Italy in that tournament, coming on as a replacement against France and Ireland.

Dowson said: “I loved it and at the time it’s hard because you’re always looking to the next game and thinking ‘what did I do badly against Scotland, Italy?’

“Looking back on it now and now I’m picking all my England shirts up and packing them in a bag, you love it.”

A year later, Dowson was to sign a new Saints deal.

And, as it turned out, the biggest achievement of the lot was still to come.

The second and final part of Phil Dowson’s exclusive farewell interview can 
be found in next week’s Chron.