Selection debate as Saints coaches try to strike 'right balance' between key games

Phil Dowson (photo by Catherine Ivill/Getty Images)Phil Dowson (photo by Catherine Ivill/Getty Images)
Phil Dowson (photo by Catherine Ivill/Getty Images)
Phil Dowson says Saints are doing their best to strike the right balance between protecting players who will be needed against Newcastle Falcons and trying to beat Munster on Saturday.

The black, green and gold are set to be severely stretched next week as they will have five first-choice backs away with England.

Alex Mitchell, Fin Smith, Fraser Dingwall, Tommy Freeman and George Furbank will all miss the home Gallagher Premiership game against Newcastle on January 27.

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And with Dowson confirming injured trio Tom Seabrook, George Hendy and James Ramm will still be sidelined by the time that match comes around, Saints have decisions to make.

But they have opted to put their full focus on Munster rather than resting men who they will definitely need against the Falcons.

"We've debated it and we've got to make sure we get the right balance," said Dowson, who has this week signed former Bath wing Gabriel Hamer-Webb on a short-term deal.

"We've got to keep one eye on that horizon but at the same time, it's the here and now we're preparing for so we'll go as hard as we possibly can."

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He added: "With regards to next week, I think it's very exciting because it is a big challenge losing those players, but at the same time there are guys who have been desperate, begging for a chance to go and show what they're capable of.

"It's a big challenge for us having not had the chance to blood them, but I'm excited about seeing those lads have a crack next week.

"But mostly we're focusing on Munster now."

Alex Coles and Tom Pearson will also miss the Newcastle match as they were also selected by England ahead of the Guinness Six Nations.

But Rory Hutchinson can play for his club despite being called up by Scotland as it is only England players who have to be released next week.

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"It's fantastic that those lads have been recognised for their performance so far this season and it's a great opportunity for those lads to represent the club and everything the club stands for," Dowson said.

"Five of the seven England players that have been called up are Academy graduates who have come through the system and that speaks volumes for what we're trying to do.

"It's great kudos to Mark Hopley and the Academy coaches as well as the guys in the system at the moment seeing that pathway."

With Saints currently top of the Premiership, their players are getting the attention they deserve.

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And Dowson said: "There will be a great study to do in terms of teams at the top of the table contributing the most to the national sides.

"It's great Rory Hutchinson has been called up and there's players on the fringes as well, with Ollie Sleightholme and Curtis Langdon having been chatted to as well.

"It's been frustrating for some players within the group but I'm sure there's a strong correlation between teams who are doing well and the players that are picked for England."

For now though, all Dowson is thinking about is finding a way to help Saints secure a long-awaited win at Thomond Park.

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They have been close to victory there before, most recently losing 27-23 last January as 14-man Munster held off a Saints side who scored 23 second-half points.

And Dowson said: "We're excited.

"We had an experience there last season and it was the tale of two halves so we want to put our game back on the pitch.

"It's one of the great places to go and play in Europe so we're fired up.

"We're in a good phase at the moment in terms of momentum but we understand we're going to have to go to a very high level to deal with what Munster are going to bring to the table.

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"We're relatively happy with where we're at but we're also aware of the challenge that awaits.

"They're always desperate for the win in Europe, they won the URC last year, they've got a tonne of talent, Irish internationals galore and that's where we want to be.

"We want to challenge ourselves at the top table, we want to find out about ourselves and the one thing you will do is find out about yourself there."