Dowson responds to O'Gara's suggestion that Saints are 'not a top team'

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Phil Dowson agrees with Ronan O'Gara's comments that Saints are not currently a top team 'in the context of the European game'.

But Dowson insists his club will be able compete with the best the Heineken Champions Cup has to offer in future as they continue to learn 'painful and frustrating' lessons in the competition.

Saints lost all four pool matches during this campaign, suffering double defeats to two sides O'Gara has strong links to as the Irishman is the current director of rugby at La Rochelle and a former fly-half at Munster.

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O'Gara said after last Saturday's 31-13 win for La Rochelle at cinch Stadium at Franklin's Gardens that he struggled to motivate his players because there was 'no fear factor' for them.

Phil DowsonPhil Dowson
Phil Dowson

"We didn't have a fear factor today because we demolished Northampton on our patch, and that stays in the players' heads," said O'Gara, who steered his side to a 46-12 home win against Saints last month.

"We're trying to tell the players that they (Saints) have a rich history in the competition, which they have, but they're not a top side and they're struggling at the minute. We struggled as well today."

Dowson was asked about those comments at Tuesday's media session.

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And the Saints boss said: "Ronan is obviously well known for speaking his mind, and if you look at our season finishes over the past four years we've been fourth, fifth, eighth, fourth and in the context of the European game I don't think we are a top side. Maybe that's the truth of it.

"Do we aspire to be? Are we ambitious? Of course.

"We're driving in every way possible, from recruitment, coach development, developing the players and trying to get the absolute most out of the players every week.

"We may not be the finished article, the end product, but I know that there's a huge amount of desire and effort in making sure that is the case and that in the future there will be that fear factor for those big sides in Europe coming here."

But can Saints truly hope to compete with sides like La Rochelle, who boast so much more financial firepower?

"Yeah, I think so," Dowson said.

"We can certainly be better, and we will be better.

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"Some of these lessons we're taking at the moment are painful and frustrating - and I know the fans get frustrated about the same message - but they will make us stronger in the future.

"We've got one of the youngest core groups in the Premiership, they've been together a long time and they're beginning to get a lot of experience together.

"If we can add quality around that, keep improving as a group and make sure our game plan is suited to winning big games then we'll be on the right track.

"You can see it with teams like Saracens, who are operating under the salary cap, and Leicester, who have got a home round of 16 game.

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"There are elements of it that do make it trickier - La Rochelle have double the salary spend that we do – but that's no excuse.

"We need to make sure we look after ourselves and make sure we're performing as well as we can."

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