Love for defence is so key as Dingwall and Saints get set for Bath battle

Saints are clearly a side who love to attack - but Fraser Dingwall wants them to love defence just as much.
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And the signs of a newly-formed romance were in evidence last Sunday as the black, green and gold toughed it out to win at Kingston Park.

Saints made a monstrous amount of tackles, 169 to be precise, and they recorded a 90.9 per cent success rate, the highest recorded in any Gallagher Premiership game this season.

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Defending was their real Achilles heel last season as only bottom side Newcastle Falcons, the team they beat last weekend, fared worse in keeping teams out.

Fraser Dingwall getting stuck into Sale (photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images)Fraser Dingwall getting stuck into Sale (photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images)
Fraser Dingwall getting stuck into Sale (photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images)

But Saints brought in a new defence coach, Lee Radford, during the summer, and they are desperate to show they have the desire to stop teams scoring while still racking up plenty of tries of their own.

"A huge part of defence is based on the mental side and it's how much you're willing to work for each other and how much intent you're willing to bring to your collision," said centre Dingwall.

"Radders is doing an excellent job around pushing that and we're coming on leaps and bounds.

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"It is becoming more consistent but we only become more consistent by doing it over and over.

"It can't be that we have weeks when it isn't there because if it's something we want to become inherent in us, it's something we have to do week in, week out.

"We get all those stats and stats wise the performance last weekend would have been of our strongest in a long time.

"You can't be naive in that the (rain-soaked) conditions probably suited that, but it's really pleasing that what we're going after in the week is translating into the weekend.

"The intent is there and we're making massive progress.

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"Hopefully it just becomes more and more of a weapon of ours and boys start to buy in and love defending.

"Games like the one last Sunday can actually be very satisfying to win because when the weather's like it is, you know it's going to be a very physical contest and it's going to be tiny margins that separate the two teams.

"To get the win in the manner we did and to put out a very gritty and honest performance where we stuck to what we were trying to do and we stuck together, that was the really pleasing thing about it."

Dingwall has long been known as a defensive leader since joining Saints as a youngster.

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And the Academy graduate knows he and his team-mates will have to be at their best if they are to halt a Bath side who boast a hugely dangerous half-back pairing of Ben Spencer and Finn Russell.

"You can't take that away from them - they're obviously very good players," Dingwall said.

"It's about how we can limit the opportunities they get and then just apply as much pressure to them as possible when they do get the ball.

"Bath have obviously got a very strong squad, they've made some great additions and they're trying to expand their game slightly.

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"Ultimately the game will be won and lost on that physical battle.

"We reflect on that Prem Cup game we played against them here and we weren't up to that in the first half and then actually when we rectified that, we were able to put our game on the pitch.

"How physical we can be will be the baseline of the challenge.”

The big games keep coming for Saints, who face Bath, Exeter Chiefs, Leicester Tigers and Harlequins in November.

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And Dingwall said: "It suits what we're trying to do in our defensive messaging really nicely.

"If we can become really consistent around how physical we can be in our defence, it's going to complement every challenge we have each week.

"In the Prem there is no easy game and each game is realistically being decided by a few points so how consistent we can be and constantly be turning up for each other is going to be important.

"We're very confident going into the game this weekend, we trust in what we're doing and we have full belief in what we want to do - it's just about getting it on the pitch.

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"If we can be really aligned with our messages and then come out with really good intent, I've got no doubt we can get a result."

But Dingwall knows Saints are going to have to find a way to cut down a costly penalty count that blighted them in defeat to Bristol Bears and almost thwarted them last Sunday.

"It gives people entries into our 22 and realistically you can have the best defence in the world but if you give teams 10 or more entries then they're going to score points at some point," Dingwall said.

"We're trying to address it and it's a tricky one because you don't ever want to just go really clean because you can then be a bit soft and ball can become a bit quick around breakdowns.

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"It's about trying to find that fine balance and get rid of the ones that are really avoidable so things like high tackles, offsides. Soft penalties – we don't accept those.

"Others we can accept at times because boys are making a genuine challenge for the ball or trying to push the boundaries for the advantage of us."

Dingwall was forced off seconds into the second half of the Premiership opener at Sale Sharks and then missed the game against Bristol.

But he was back in action from the off last Sunday.

And he said: "I had a big old whack to my hip in the Sale game and it limited a lot of the muscle groups in that area because I had bruising.

"It was very sore but I managed to get over it so I'm fit and healthy and looking forward to getting into a rhythm of playing this season."