THROUGH THEIR EYES: Bath 16 Saints 30 - Phil Dowson

After years of heartache in semi-finals and finals, Saints finally banished their demons by beating Bath in the European Challenge Cup final on May 23, 2014.
Phil Dowson helped to steer Saints to Challenge Cup glory in CardiffPhil Dowson helped to steer Saints to Challenge Cup glory in Cardiff
Phil Dowson helped to steer Saints to Challenge Cup glory in Cardiff

Tries from Phil Dowson and Ben Foden, allied with a hugely impressive kicking display from Stephen Myler, secured a 30-16 win at Cardiff Arms Park.

Here we look back at it all through the eyes of captain-for-the-day Dowson.

Q: What was the build-up to the game like?

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A: I remember it was bizarre because we played the 2011 Heineken Cup final in Cardiff and when we went to play in the Challenge Cup final in 2014, the Heineken Cup final was being played the next day at the Millennium Stadium. We went and had a look around at the Cardiff pitch before our game and it was almost the feeling of ‘we’d rather be playing in the big one tomorrow’. You had that big stadium (the Millennium) on one side and a smaller one (Cardiff Arms Park) on the other and we were thinking that on another day and in another season we probably could have been in the big final. It brought back memories of the 2011 final and we didn’t want to make the same mistake again, certainly from a personal point of view anyway. In 2011, we had played Leicester in a Premiership play-off semi-final the week before we played Leinster in the final and we had just been battered and run out of steam. It was obvious we had run out of steam at half-time and we didn’t have enough in the tank to get over the line. So at that stage of the 2013/14 season, with the lessons we had learned from previous years, it was a case of just resting up after beating Leicester the week before to make sure everyone was fresh and ready to go. Salesi (Ma’afu) was banned - a one-weeker (for punching Tom Youngs), which was pretty generous - so there were a few changes from that Leicester game, nothing massive. Obviously that win against Leicester gave everyone a bit of a feeling that this year could be our year. We had four semi-final losses, we’d lost to Leicester the previous year in the Premiership final and it just felt that all that experience and bitterness meant we had to make it happen.

Q: How confident were you that you could beat Bath?

A: You go through those experiences so many times and you feel like you’re running out of time to do it. You saw the way we won at the end of the Leicester game and from what I remember of the Bath game, we just started to move through the gears a little bit towards the end of the game. We just had that confidence to say ‘we’ve been here before, we know now is the time to kick on a bit’.

Q: You were seven-points down at half-time so what was said at that point?

A: Being down at half-time, as long as you’re within a score, isn’t too bad. We’d seen in previous games that sides had come back pretty strongly against us so it wasn’t a massive issue. It was just a case of ‘here’s the threats Bath have, and here’s what we need to improve upon’. We wanted to go out and see how we got on. We wanted to go out and exert some pressure. You obviously take some tactical things with you in terms of being better in this and that area and that would cut out some of their threat, but a lot of it is just making sure you make slight adjustments and get back out there.

Q: What was it like scoring in that final?

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A: I scored in a few finals actually. I scored in the Powergen Cup, the Heineken Cup final and that Amlin Challenge Cup final so I had good memories of scoring in finals. I remember against Bath it was from a maul and me taking credit from everyone else’s hard work. I was pumped up at the time and I regret the celebration because I threw a ball at one of their players so I should apologise for that. I got pulled away by Kahn Fotuali’i and Christian Day and I’ve got good memories of them calming me down and making sure I didn’t get penalised and do anything dumb. I was fully pumped up - I definitely remember that.

Q: At what point in that game did you feel you had won it?

A: We had a long period of time, as we got quite good at with that group, of just putting pressure on at the maul. We spent 10, 15 minutes of grinding them down and they got a yellow card late on. It got to 15 minutes to go and they had a man in the bin and we’d just scored. We were in the ascendancy and we knew we had found where we wanted to go and how we were going to win the game.

Q: What was it like when the final whistle went and what were the celebrations like?

A: It was massive when the whistle went. My cousin was there and I just had a couple of beers on the bus home because there were bigger fish to fry the following weekend. The celebrations were quite muted and it wasn’t in any way lively. Jim (Mallinder) had made the point that ‘okay, that’s one down, but the big prize is the following week at Twickenham’.

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