Dingwall ready for Sixways return after Saints' strange year

On Tuesday, there was a one-minute silence across the country to mark the one-year anniversary of when we all went into lockdown for the first time.

Fraser Dingwall
Fraser Dingwall

And on Saturday, there will be another chance to reflect as Saints head back to Sixways, where they played their final game before the unprecedented rugby shutdown in March 2020.

No one could have foreseen the kind of impact Covid-19 would have on the lives of everyone around the world.

For rugby, it has meant that fans are currently not permitted to attend matches, but the fact there is rugby action at all has taken a huge amount of work.

Between March and August last year, the Premiership was on pause, with fans, players and coaches wondering when it would return.

Saints won 16-10 at Sixways on March 6 but then didn't play again for more than five months.

And this week, centre Fraser Dingwall who helped his side to beat Worcester on the night before rugby went into hibernation, took time to reflect on the strangest of Saintly years.

"To think we'd still be here a year later without fans is crazy, even though we did have one game, against Bordeaux, in December, with 2,000 people here," Dingwall said.

"But we know we're very fortunate to be able to play. It would have been quite easy for it not to have been allowed.

"Hopefully the fact we're allowed to play is giving a lot of people a lift."

And Dingwall's memories of that match at Worcester last March?

"I just remember we really needed to get a win and we managed to cling on," he said.

"They were hammering us in the final five minutes and Woody (Tom Wood) turned over a maul literally in the last play, and that was the game.

"It was a bit of a relief and it's strange to reflect on a year ago when people were there watching and there wasn't much mention of Covid at all."

Dingwall moved in with James Grayson during the first lockdown to avoid being alone and the duo still live with each other to this day.

"The first lockdown was only supposed to be for three weeks so we just cracked on, did gym sessions in the garden and then running sessions where we could outside at the park," he said.

"It got extended by four weeks and then six weeks and before you knew it 12 weeks had gone by and you hadn't even been at the club.

"Getting back to the club was massive for all of us just to have a change of picture."

So many protocols were introduced to allow rugby to return safely, including regular Covid tests.

And Dingwall said: "You just had to quickly adapt and get on with them really because there was no way of getting around them and that was what was giving you the opportunity to be back at the club.

"We were all just so grateful to be back training and playing that we would have gone through any of those protocols.

"The testing process isn't very nice and we do it every week and sometimes twice a week just so we can do what we do.

"As much as some things were a bit tedious and questionable, you just got along and did them because you wanted to play rugby."

When rugby returned, Saints really struggled to win matches.

They secured just one victory during the conclusion of last season that came in a hectic period between August and September.

And Dingwall said: "It was a tough period looking back on it and a lot of lessons have been learned by a lot of people.

"There was the great feeling of being back and playing but then there was a loss and it wasn't once a week, it was twice every week and we were really struggling to get some results.

"It was an interesting period but I do feel like we've turned the corner now and we're back to playing some of our best rugby at times."

Saints finished last season down in eighth in the Gallagher Premiership, but they are currently fifth and feeling much better about life following some much-needed victories in 2021.

"Even when we weren't winning games, the club was still very much together and it didn't become toxic at all," Dingwall said.

"Everyone had full belief and trust in what we were trying to do and in our process but we just weren't executing it very well.

"It's similar to now because there are three or four games we could have closed out, but if you look at the other seven or so games we've won against some big teams and we know what we do when we get it right can be successful.

"We need to replicate it week in, week out."

Dingwall has started to make himself at home in the 13 shirt, delivering some commanding displays.

"Personally I've been happy to be back involved in the team," the 21-year-old said.

"Before the game at Harlequins earlier this month, my most recent game was against Worcester on Boxing Day and it was tough to get back into the team.

"There wasn't rotation that a normal season would have because we had games called off due to Covid.

"I've got my head down and worked hard and when the opportunity came round I've tried to take it.

"One of the better things about not playing is that you can put a bit more focus on your physical preparation, especially in the gym.

"When you're playing it can be quite hard to get through your gym sessions, largely because of the soreness after games.

"I was able to get a good few weeks in the gym and training wise you feel more confident adding contact elements to your training because you don't have to play 80 minutes at the weekend.

"I've been working on my basic skills as well and I want to get them right as much as possible."

Saints have played all of the top four during the past couple of months and they are now facing a run of matches against sides below them as they bid to keep their play-off dreams alive.

"For us to finish in the top four, which is what we want, this run of games is going to be key," Dingwall said.

"The gap's opened up from fifth to fourth and there have been a couple of games we've let go that would have changed that.

"It's about us getting on as much of a roll again as we can and putting in performances like against Bristol last weekend, but for longer spells."