Belief key for misfiring Saints, says Foden

After Saints' agonising derby-day defeat at Leicester Tigers last Saturday, Ben Foden became the latest player to try to sum up his side's lack of cut and thrust this season.

Thursday, 8th December 2016, 7:00 am
Updated Wednesday, 14th December 2016, 1:56 pm
Ben Foden believes a lack of confidence is Saints' main problem (picture: Sharon Lucey)

Once again Jim Mallinder’s men had gone toe to toe with a team up front but failed to find the spark they needed to penetrate the opposition.

All they had to show for their considerable efforts at Welford Road was a typical forward’s try from hooker Mike Haywood and two penalties from Stephen Myler.

But with more composure and some added creativity, Saints could have had so much more.

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As Foden says - Tigers were there for the taking.

They may have enjoyed a lengthy spell of pressure on the Saints line during the second period, but they too struggled to get through.

Saints defended stoically, but they couldn’t make the most of the possession and territory they had at the other end of the field.

And salt was rubbed in their wounds as Owen Williams slotted a penalty with the final kick of the match to rob Jim Mallinder’s men of a losing bonus point.

So just why are Saints, who had been beaten 22-16 by Newcastle at Franklin’s Gardens eight days earlier, struggling to score tries?

“Rugby is a game of confidence,” said Foden.

“If there’s a spring in your step and guys want the ball and are hungry to get on the end of things, you’re going to score tries.

“At the moment, we lack that little bit of confidence to make the final pass and the right decision under serious pressure.

“Looking at the week building into Leicester, we were umming and ahhing over whether we’d play a kicking game and play for position or whether we would get the ball through the hands and give the likes of Luther (Burrell) and George North the chance to take on players.

“I think we showed we had a better measure of that last week and we were more astute with what we tactically wanted to do.

“Obviously losing Luther in the first few minutes of the game wasn’t ideal, but we conceded a try and coped.

“(Adam) Thompstone got sin-binned as well and we got ourselves on the board, but we had a few times where ill discipline cost us the field position we needed to score tries.

“We’ll look at the positives, build from that and go forward.”

Prior to last Saturday’s game, BT Sport’s Rugby Tonight programme did an in-depth analysis of Saints’ attacking ills.

They put all of the stats on the big screen, with former Tigers scrum-half Austin Healey - probably to the irritation of many a Saints supporter - scrutinising Mallinder’s men.

Saints were in the bottom three in the Aviva Premiership for points (10th), tries scored (12th), metres made (11th), clean breaks (10th), defenders beaten (12th) and gainline success (11th).

It did not make for pretty reading, but Foden felt Saints improved at Leicester.

“We looked at our launch plays and it comes from set piece as well,” Foden said.

“If we can get good ball off the top then we’ve got the runners and the strike plays to break down teams.

“We showed that a lot more last week.

“After the defeat to Newcastle, (assistant coach) Alan Dickens showed us a stat that we didn’t get over the gainline once from set piece and if you do that, you’re always going to struggle to score points.

“We didn’t really score any points in the second half at Leicester but we put ourselves in positions.

“We took a tap penalty early when we should have kicked for posts but apart from that, you can’t knock the boys for their ambition.

“We got good momentum and we’re trying to score tries. It’s what the fans will want us to do, and as a team and as a back line we need to strive to do that.

“We are capable of breaking teams down and scoring tries, and if we can do that, get our confidence back up, we’ll be a match for any side.”

Saints will certainly need their swagger to return if they are to see off Leinster at Franklin’s Gardens this week.

The Guinness Pro12’s second-placed side are packed full of Ireland internationals and triumphed 40-7 on their most recent visit to Northampton, three years ago.

Saints won 18-9 with a heroic showing in Dublin eight days after that game, but Foden knows his side must be quicker out of the blocks in the first of this year’s December double-header.

“It’s sort of the story of this season that we’re slow out of the blocks and then we’re chasing teams,” he said.

“Our performances against Leinster three years ago, we got a real hiding at home and then looked for a reaction the following week, but we don’t want that.

“We need two big performances.

“We showed in the second week with the turnaround that we can beat teams like Leinster in their own backyard, but we’ve got to get the performances at home as well.

“Teams are coming to Franklin’s Gardens now and feeling they’ve got a good chance.

“A big focus for us is to turn Franklin’s into a fortress again and make sure teams know they’ve got to work seriously hard to get anything from games, let alone win.

“We’ll look at getting the crowd behind us, getting the force of the Gardens behind us and hopefully we can get the performance and result we’re looking for.”