Dowson's hoping the 'scars' Saints have collected can help them improve

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Phil Dowson feels Saints can use the scars they've collected in recent big games to help them improve.

The black, green and gold suffered an agonising 20-17 loss to Leinster in last Saturday's Investec Champions Cup semi-final at Croke Park.

It was another final-four loss for Saints, who have not won a semi-final in the Premiership or Europe since they claimed a league and Challenge Cup double in 2014.

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They have been beaten by the likes of Exeter Chiefs, Leicester Tigers and Saracens in the Premiership play-off semi-finals, and now Leinster have overcome them in the Champions Cup.

Phil Dowson consoled Fin Smith after Saints' defeat at Croke Park (photo by David Rogers/Getty Images)Phil Dowson consoled Fin Smith after Saints' defeat at Croke Park (photo by David Rogers/Getty Images)
Phil Dowson consoled Fin Smith after Saints' defeat at Croke Park (photo by David Rogers/Getty Images)

But just as that 2014 team did, Dowson believes Saints can use knockout disappointments to fuel their fire for future endeavours.

"Those experiences are never linear and it's never going to be that we get better and better until we do it," Dowson said.

"There's going to be ups and downs, and we have to take that in our stride.

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"We're definitely learning about ourselves in terms of how we deal with pressure as a group, as a coaching team and everything really.

"They are all scars that will hopefully allow us to be better in the future."

He added: "It's the experience element of it. We haven't had many European knockout games within that group.

"We've got some players with loads of experience, like Courtney (Lawes), and some players with little like George Hendy.

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"All those players will be better for that experience and it should actually give this group loads of confidence in terms of what we're capable of and how much better we can be and how enjoyable those occasions are, to play at special stadiums, in front of big crowds, against good teams.

"It's why we're here."

Saints have been involved in some huge occasions in recent weeks, facing Harlequins at Twickenham before tussling with Leinster at Croke Park.

But on both occasions, nerves seemed to hamper them, meaning they gave themselves mountains to climb in the second period.

"The Harlequins game was a disappointment because we'd been on a really good run of performances and then we didn't quite get it right from an intent point of view," Dowson said.

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"From an effort, intent and attitude level against Leinster, we were outstanding, and that's what kept us in the game in that first half.

"In attack, we couldn't exert enough pressure because we couldn't keep hold of the ball and couldn't get any of our launch on the pitch.

"It's frustrating we haven't managed to do what we wanted to do but there's going to be peaks and troughs throughout the season, and they are two games where we haven't performed as we wanted to."

Despite seeing their side go 15-0 down to Leinster, the coaches remained calm, with Sam Vesty appearing on TNT Sports during the match and insisting the Saints players would 'problem solve'.

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They did just that as they almost snatched a memorable success in the final moments.

And Dowson said: "We try to remain calm - getting het up and excited isn't going to solve much.

"Sam is probably the most excitable so he was obviously putting on a good act!

"We love seeing the lads play, perform and challenge themselves against the best sides and that occasion was great for us as a coaching group to be part of and to support the players.

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"We try to continue to stay calm so we can concentrate and help the players in any way we can."

With recent away games showing how tough life can be on the road, Saints will be desperate to claim five points against Gloucester to book a home Premiership play-off semi-final.

And Dowson said: "Statistically, there's something like six out of 20 away victories so it is easier to win at home so therefore it's been one of our targets and we're still on track for that.

"But there's nothing taken for granted, we'll make sure we keep pushing on."

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