Graham keen to kick on after successful first season at Saints

Sam Graham is determined to 'keep pushing forward' after a successful first season at Saints.
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The back row forward arrived at Northampton from Doncaster Knights last summer and went on to make 20 appearances in his first season.

Graham, who was the Doncaster captain, skippered Saints for the first time in their 48-22 Premiership Rugby Cup defeat at Ealing Trailfinders on Sunday afternoon.

And despite the scoreline, the 26-year-old was still able to impress, securing several crucial turnovers for his side as he displayed his determination to lead from the front.

Sam Graham skippered Saints against Ealing Trailfinders on Sunday (picture: Adam Gumbs)Sam Graham skippered Saints against Ealing Trailfinders on Sunday (picture: Adam Gumbs)
Sam Graham skippered Saints against Ealing Trailfinders on Sunday (picture: Adam Gumbs)

"Last year was the benchmark, although it was probably more than what I expected," Graham said.

"That sort of exceptional behaviour then becomes acceptable and for me that’s really got to be the bottom line.

"I think in terms of what changes for me? Nothing. I’ve got to do exactly what I did last year.

"If I keep doing that with the things I learned from last year, I’ve just got to keep pushing forward.

"It was an unbelievable achievement for me to captain on Sunday and it’s something I am very proud of."

He added: "My first leadership role was playing local rugby back at Chippenham through the age groups I was captain in the Under-18s for the odd game, nothing really major.

"I’d like to think even now, it’s not about being really vocal. I can actually sit back a bit and let other people lead, we’re full of world class players here and they know exactly what they’re on about.

"It’s quite nice that all I need to talk about is the emotional stuff, which I love. It’s the best thing about rugby for me."

Facing a Championship side was nothing new for Graham as he excelled at that level with Doncaster.

And he'll soon be up against his old club as Saints host the Knights in their final cup pool match at the start of October.

"It’s funny, the two teams I’ve been at before, Bristol and Donny, we’re playing both of them in this cup, and it’s awesome for me," Graham said.

"It gives me something a little extra to chase in these games and it means more.

"I am so excited to face Donny again and certainly Bristol too.

"The last time we played Bristol at their place (Saints suffered a record Premiership defeat at Ashton Gate in March), it ended fairly horribly on what was quite a big night for me and I’d love to put that right."

Graham is happy to see the Championship clubs get a shot at the Premiership teams in cup competition.

He said: "I think it’s really good for rugby. We know the state of rugby at the moment with last year being the most turbulent one to date. But having been in the Championship, all everyone in the Championship wants is to get a seat at the table and to show what they can do.

"Now the shoe is on the other foot with me being in a Prem side and playing against Champ sides is the perfect emotional test for those boys who are going to be coming out flying against us."

Graham helped Saints to secure a top-four spot in the Premiership last season, but they were beaten by eventual champions Saracens in the play-off semi-final at StoneX Stadium.

"Obviously the way things ended last season isn’t the way we wanted to go out," he said.

"Especially late on in the second half of that semi-final, we started showing what we could, putting us on the pitch and we clawed our way back into it and within striking distance.

"It was a pretty heavy disappointment and it sort of leaves a nasty taste in your mouth.

"But it’s good, it puts fuel on the fire going into the next season so coming back in when we did was ideal timing.

"It was a long pre-season but the games are coming around pretty quick now."

Graham is now ready to go from strength to strength in Saints colours having got some valuable experience under his belt.

"Moving down from Donny to here gave me a chance to reflect, but it wasn’t the end goal just to get here," he said.

"To feature as heavily as I did last year, I’m very happy with what I did, but the goalposts move again.

"To finish the season in a semi-final is not where want to go as a club and certainly personally I want to be in those big games.”