Crucial close-season for Saints as they seek to arrest the slide

Chris Boyd says Saints must make 'steep changes' during the close-season as they seek to put their barren spell behind them.

Friday, 9th October 2020, 3:34 pm
Updated Friday, 9th October 2020, 3:36 pm
Chris Boyd

The black, green and gold lost 12 of their previous 14 matches before being forced to forfeit the Gallagher Premiership final-day fixture at Gloucester.

It was a chastening run of results, which ensured they would finish the season in eighth spot and bow out of the Champions Cup at the quarter-final stage.

The Saints players are now on a three-week break before returning to training to build up to the 2020/21 Premiership season opener at Sale Sharks on November 20.

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And Boyd said: "We've got one game, (a friendly) against Worcester on Friday, November 13, and then we play Sale on Friday, November 20 in the first round of the Premiership.

"Boys get three weeks' leave and then three weeks' pre-season and then we're back into it.

"It's a pretty short period of time and some pretty steep changes need to be made."

Boyd was frustrated that his side were unable to face Gloucester after a huge amount of positive Covid-19 tests at Sale Sharks forced several of the Saints players to self-isolate.

And that not only impacted the scheduled clash at Kingsholm but also the time the players will spend away from Franklin's Gardens.

"Unfortunately, after the Sale fallout, I think half of the players are having to isolate for the first 14 days so you don't have to be Einstein to work out that if you've got 21 days of leave and the 14 days are in isolation, there's not much leave to be had and there's not many venues to go to either," Boyd explained.

"We were hoping to keep the gym and things open but we've obviously had a bit of a post-Sale outbreak ourselves so we've had to close that down and go through a patch of deep cleaning and get ourselves reorganised so it's been pretty disruptive.

"But whatever the world is throwing you at the moment you've got to be resilient, nimble and get on with the cards you've got and do the best you can.

"To the best of my knowledge, from the people who have been exposed to Covid, we haven't had anyone who has been critically ill.

"You have to take the whole thing seriously and obviously you've got family on the outside of the bubble who connect as well so it is tough to regulate."

"It was certainly a very different matchday for Boyd last weekend, who headed to a socially-distanced supporters' lunch at the Gardens.

"I was at Franklin's Gardens with a group of hardy Saints supporters who had gathered there to see the final day," Boyd said.

"It was a bit surreal because they were supposed to be there watching us play Gloucester but I spent pretty much the whole afternoon at the Gardens."

So what did Boyd make of the fact that his side had to forfeit the game at Gloucester because of Saints only having two front row players available due to injuries and isolation?

"I didn't think that was particularly fair but the PRL (Premiership Rugby Limited) had to set up a set of regulations to deal with what Covid was going to hand out and all the clubs agreed that if you were responsible for a game not going ahead then you would forfeit the points," Boyd said.

"Registrations need to be done by midday on the Friday and initially we were hoping to be able to find a tighthead, two looseheads and a hooker.

"We weren't terribly optimistic about being able to do that, but I was very keen to see our young guys play.

"Having so many people coming in might have made a mockery of it, but the knock-on effect of them (the RFU) saying there was no loan players allowed meant the only thing we could have done was to go down there with 20 players and have no tighthead, loosehead or hooker on the bench.

"And the ramifications of that just became non-sensical so we just had to give it away."

Saints only won one game after rugby returned from lockdown in August.

But Boyd feels the rugby community as a whole handled the problems they faced well.

"The rugby community as a whole has done particularly well to keep itself out of the hotspots that Covid seems to come from," Boyd said.

"When you've got families and partners and flatmates, the fact we got through to almost the last dance without having a problem was a credit to everyone in the rugby environment around the discipline they showed.

"Once it's in your bubble then with a close contact sport, the likelihood of it spreading is pretty high.

"We've done really well but you let your guard down once and the virus gets in and you've got a problem."