James shows Saints are starting to unearth gems again

How do you build the perfect Premiership squad?

Thursday, 18th March 2021, 7:00 am
Tom James has scored four tries in 10 appearances for Saints

With the salary cap in place, you need a combination of three things.

Firstly, you need your stardust. Your experienced players who have established themselves at the top level and who not only have a huge amount of quality but also know-how.

At the other end of the spectrum, you need your talented youngsters, developed in your Academy. A bunch of players with huge potential but also the ability to deliver in the present.

James in action against Sale last weekend

And in the middle, you need your under-the-radar gems. Players who few had heard of when you signed them but who eventually become household names at your club.

And, whisper it quietly, but Saints are starting to deliver in all three categories.

In the first section, there are stars such as Courtney Lawes, Tom Wood and Dan Biggar.

In the second, there are too many to name, such is the abundance of talent that the Saints Academy is churning out.

James scored twice against Bath

And in the third, Saints are finally coming up with the goods.

After a few years of recruitment not quite hitting the mark, the previously unearthed gems are starting to be found and polished.

It was something that became a hallmark of Jim Mallinder’s title-winning squad as the likes of Ben Foden, Samu Manoa and Luther Burrell, to name just a few, came in under the radar and became huge forces in the Premiership

But that ability to discover future stars stated to wane and Saints started to struggle.

James scored against Harlequins at the Twickenham Stoop

Now though, the recent emergence of players such as Sam Matavesi, Shaun Adendorff and Tom James is starting to increase the optimism levels again.

James, in particular, has hit the ground running in the Premiership.

The scrum-half arrived from Championship club Doncaster Knights last summer and has settled in superbly.

"I've tried to prepare as well as I can for the opportunities I get," James said this week.

"I knew coming in this year that there might not be too many chances so I've made sure I enjoy it as much as I can when opportunities come and get stuck in.

"I'm obviously enjoying it and it's nice to get that consistent game time so I'm really happy to be involved."

So how difficult is it to make the step up from England's second tier to life in the Premiership?

"The Championship's a physical league but it's just the quickness of the game and the skill level in the Premiership that is that bit higher," James said.

"You need to push the tempo of your game a bit more.

"You're always a bit apprehensive (before stepping up a level) but I've played quite a few Championship games and I was ready to back myself when the opportunity came.

"I hadn't really spoken to anyone who had stepped up but I'd seen a few people I'd played with before go from that Championship environment into the Premiership and do really well.

"When I first came down here, I had a meeting with Paul Shields, Chris Boyd and Sam Vesty and the philosophy they described and the way they saw me in the structure was attractive.

"The coaching and the setup has really helped me.

"I've enjoyed working closely with Sam Vesty and Ian Vass and my game has improved massively from working with them.

"Their attention to detail is really good and I've massively benefited from it."

James has chipped in with four tries in 10 appearances so far, scoring against Leinster, Bath (twice) and Harlequins.

"It's always nice to get over," said the 27-year-old.

"It's been on the back of pretty good play from other guys and I know that if I can get up there and support, we've got dangerous players everywhere."

Saints left James on until the 78th minute in the win against Sale Sharks last weekend, having replaced him closer to the 60th minute in defeats to Bath and Harlequins.

He said: "It's normally quite a common thing to change your half-back around the 60-minute mark to change things or bring some extra tempo but last week it was so close to the end and with the conditions as they were, you don't change your half-backs at that stage.

"I'm definitely thankful to be given so much game time and it gives you consistency and confidence when you get starts a few weeks on the bounce."

James is enjoying life at Franklin's Gardens and he has settled into his new surroundings well.

"My Mrs and I moved to Olney and we're enjoying it there," he said.

"It's a shame because of lockdown that everything's shut at the moment but we're enjoying it here.

"I was given a few ideas of where I could move to and there's loads of nice villages around so there was plenty to choose from."

James certainly feels like he's got his feet under the table in Northampton now.

"Getting game time makes you feel more of a part of it and you definitely feel like you have a voice," he said.

"When you're not playing too often, it's tough and you can feel detached from it, so to be involved every week is really good."

James is now setting his sights on toppling the Premiership table-toppers at Franklin's Gardens on Sunday as Bristol Bears come to town.

He actually made his first Saints start against Bristol in a 47-10 defeat at Ashton Gate back in September, but he is in bullish mood ahead of this weekend's encounter.

"They're top of the league, they're playing some really good rugby but we're pretty confident going into it," James said.

"We know when we play to our best we can cause a lot of teams problems so we're focusing on ourselves this week."