Jake savouring his big chance as he tries to help Saints deliver Sharp defence

There is a certain irony about Jake Sharp's rapid rise at Saints.

Saturday, 4th January 2020, 7:00 am
Jake Sharp
Jake Sharp

The man drafted in to help Academy players with their transition to the first team has actually beaten them to it.

Sharp made a temporary move from the Academy setup to the first-team coaching office at the end of November following Alan Dickens' departure from the club.

The 28-year-old, who only moved to Northampton last summer, has stepped up to take over Dickens' role of defence coach on an interim basis.

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And it is not lost on Sharp that his transition has been made quicker than the players he was brought in to help.

"It's huge for me," Sharp said.

"All three of the others in the office (Sam Vesty, Phil Dowson and Matt Ferguson) are all early or late 30s and they're considered very young coaches.

"I'm definitely older than my years because I started coaching so early on.

"If you've got a good knowledge base and it's backed up by evidence and proof and you can keep referencing back to that in training and games, people are going to buy into that.

"Some of the first advice Boydy (Saints boss Chris Boyd) gave me was to go and speak to the senior lads and get them to understand where you want to go and get them to guide you.

"Courtney (Lawes) has been brilliant in driving it, Woody (Tom Wood) has been playing some of the best rugby he's been playing in years and then you've got lads like Luds (Lewis Ludlam) and PF (Piers Francis) who have come back from World Cups and are hungry to be better.

"It's a group who really want to learn so I couldn't have timed it better but now I'm trying to make the most of it, make the role my own and drive this group to be better every week."

Prior to his switch to Saints as transition coach, Sharp spent 10 years as a player in the Championship.

He represented Bedford Blues, London Scottish and Coventry, having initially made his debut for Saracens at the age of 18.

But it is clear that coaching has always been close to the top of his career agenda, and Sharp jumped at the chance to join Boyd's team at Saints.

"I just wanted to be part of a good environment that is supporting young players and there are a lot of good reputations around Boydy and the other coaches so it was something I wanted to be a part of," Sharp explained.

"I thought I'd have to do a four or five-year stint to get an opportunity in the first-team office but Alan Dickens moved on to the pathway with England Under-20s and Boydy and Hoppers (Mark Hopley) came to me and asked if I wanted to take over the defence for the foreseeable future.

"I was like 'yeah, 100 per cent, let's go'.

"It obviously started off really well against Leicester and then the next few weeks were tough with Leinster and Sale but we're back to winning ways now and the group are really buying into what we're trying to do.

"It's been a really quick transition but I'd been coaching for 10 years before and I was really lucky to get this opportunity.

"I knew I needed to be in the right environment and actually everyone can see it is. We're seeing the rewards of that on and off the field."

Being defence coach at Saints is no easy job, mainly because the lethal attacking side of their game so often hogs the limelight.

But Sharp said: "We want to become not just a team known for the attacking brand of rugby.

"If we can get the ball back in defence more aggressively and more quickly, that would be brilliant.

"We've got the best lineout defence in the league, one of the best scrums in the league and the defence wasn't weak by any stretch of the imagination, but maybe we gave teams too much respect.

"We want to start to impose ourselves on oppositions and that's where we're trying to get to.

"There are little tweaks along the way, it's nothing radical and we've got a lot of really good players so it makes life a lot easier.

"We also know when we do turn the ball over, the lads can do what they do and score a lot of points."

On a personal note, Sharp is simply savouring every second of being part of the first-team coaching setup.

The club have been in discussions to make a permanent appointment as they look to replace England Under-20s head coach Dickens on a full-time basis, but, for now, Sharp will continue to make the most of his big chance.

"If I can leave it better than where I found it, I can be happy with what I've done," he said.

"It started off very unsure what the role would look like around supporting the defence and the coaches told me it was no problem if there were certain things I didn't want to take on.

"But I wanted to just jump straight into it, I was very comfy with my philosophy and my style of coaching.

"I know what I want to be just as a person, not even as a coach, and I felt some of our defence stuff had been done for a few years so it needed to be freshened up.

"Dicko had got it into a great place and we've got some great young players who are keen to learn.

"It drips through from Woody to Fraser Dingwall and Jimmy Grayson.

"It's a really exciting group who are keen to learn and I'm learning more in the coaching office under Sam, Dows, Ferg and Boydy than I could ever dream of really.

"They've been really receptive to my ideas as well so it's a really good place to be at the moment.

"You can see a mindset change in terms of what we're trying to do defensively on the field.

"We got taught some lessons against Leinster but they are one of, it not the, best teams in Europe at the moment.

"We did show some good stuff, but at Sale we didn't quite turn up.

"Against Gloucester it was two top teams going at it and for us to come out on top was excellent.

"There were errors in there but as a group we're in a good place."