'I'm bored of saying the same things' - Saints coach Ferguson demands improvement

Such was Matt Ferguson's frustration following back-to-back defeats for Saints, the first answer the assistant coach gave at Tuesday's media day lasted for an incredible four minutes and 36 seconds.

By Tom Vickers
Friday, 25th February 2022, 5:16 pm
Updated Friday, 25th February 2022, 5:18 pm

For reference, at the same press session, Alex Mitchell's first answer was timed at 32 seconds and Mike Haywood's was one minute and seven seconds.

It showed just how keen Ferguson, who is always extremely loquacious and analytical, was to talk through what had gone wrong in the 35-20 loss at Leicester and the 22-21 home defeat at the hands of Sale.

Ferguson was asked to reflect on where he feels Saints sit after the past couple of weeks.

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Matt Ferguson

And he said: "I'm getting a little bit bored of sitting here and talking to you and almost saying the same things really.

"You have to take rugby out of the equation in the Leicester game because physically we weren't there.

"It doesn't matter if you're playing for the Under-12s at Bugbrooke or you're playing out here at Saints, physicality underpins the game of rugby. That clearly wasn't good enough.

"The challenge was set last week in terms of bringing that intent and physicality, and we saw that in spades, but then our accuracy fell apart.

"When was the last time we saw 20 balls put on the floor?

"In the same way your physicality can be a downfall, so can accuracy.

"We had twice as many visits to their 22 and came away with half the amount of points.

"We are working incredibly hard as a group to put our game on the park and apply pressure to opposition, and when we do that well and we do that accurately with physicality and intensity, we tend to score.

"But then on the other hand, we're giving freebies to the opposition.

"They exit with a box kick, the winger manages to catch it and he's under our sticks.

"They haven't worked hard for that, that's not even their plan, they just got on the back of it, whereas we're looking at doing four or five really heavy phases.

"That in a nutshell is it really.

"We're working really hard to score the points we have to take, we're not converting the pressure we have and that's not a surprise because it's a similar message to what I told you after the defeat to Sarries in January.

"That's why I'm a bit grumpy because I feel like I've had this conversation with you, I can see it in front of me, banging the line against Sarries, half-time coming, and I saw the same thing against Sale.

"Boydy (Saints boss Chris Boyd) said it's not terminal yet but we can't just pick and choose.

"People are saying 'I'm surprised you didn't get bullied by Sale', well, don't be surprised because more often than not against everybody in Europe, when we've chosen to be physical and show intent, we've matched everyone. We've matched everyone.

"But when we choose not to, like the Welford Road performance, we're under pressure.

"We beat Exeter here in my first year, we had four phases in their 22, we scored four tries and won. It was the start of a good run.

"We're at a stage now where it's pretty clear we have the physicality and intent to match one of the most physical teams in the league, so it must be mindset.

"The boys didn't eat something different last Friday to what they did the previous Friday so it was a mental decision to turn up against Sale and be physical, which wasn't there against Leicester.

"The decision is now that you have to turn up with that mindset against Exeter. You have to.

"We have to make sure that when we get into the 22, we're more accurate and we convert more pressure and we don't let them have freebies at the other end.

"When you say it like that, it's pretty easy.

"That first year or so when I joined, you would look at Exeter and you'd struggle to see how we were going to get a foothold in those games. I don't see that now.

"We just can't pick and choose when we do it."

Ferguson, who is Saints' scrum guru, trusted young props Manny Iyogun and Ehren Painter to perform against Sale last weekend - and perform they did.

Both players will keep their place against Exeter this weekend.

"We spend a lot of time on our selections, one to 15, making sure it's the right man for the right job," Ferguson said.

"Manny's had some really good little cameos off the bench and obviously we'd used him in some more high profile games previously out of neccessity.

"We've watched how Manny has been performing over a few weeks and we looked at how Sale were going to be set up.

"I actually thought all of the front rowers went well last weekend.

"I start thinking to myself if I was the opposition coach and I'm seeing Alex Waller and Paul Hill come on after 55, 60 minutes, I think that would give me a bit of a cold sweat.

"All of those props who played last weekend put in a big shift and there was Sam Matavesi who played the full 80 minutes in his style and that was great.

"The little man, Mike Haywood, got on the flank at the end, which he hasn't stopped talking about!"