Wing wizard Collins coming of age at Saints
At the start of the past few seasons, Tom Collins has looked primed to make a striking impression for Saints.
Continually considered the next big thing from the Academy production line, Collins hasn’t quite managed to make a first-team spot his own since making his debut against Gloucester in January, 2013.
He has put in some big performances in big games - Collins started the stunning win against Leinster in Dublin in December 2013 and in the memorable Premiership semi-final win against Leicester five months later - but has never quite written his name indelibly on the teamsheet.
However, after spending a valuable stint in Sydney with amateur side Randwick Greens during the early part of the summer, Collins has really hit the ground running.
And this is surely his time to shine on a regular basis for his boyhood club.
The 23-year-old scored four tries during pre-season and was a beacon of light in the Aviva Premiership opening-day defeat to Saracens at Twickenham.
And, last Saturday, he really caught the eye, cruising through the Leicester Tigers defence before sidestepping England scrum-half Ben Youngs to put the seal on Saints’ 24-11 derby-day win.
Now Collins wants to shed his promising youngster tag and fulfil his obvious potential.
“It’s a bit frustrating for me because I keep getting told I’m a young lad, but I’m not so young any more,” the speedy wing said.
“I am still young, but not as young as everyone seems to think.
“It is a shame I couldn’t build on where I was when I was 19 but I feel like I’ve matured for the better in a rugby sense and I can move forward as a better player.
“As frustrating as the past two or three years have been, I’ve built and grown as a player.
“I’m trying to say to myself that I’m going to stay in the team this year, cement a spot and say to the coaches that I can perform week in, week out.
“My consistency has been the problem. Sometimes I’m playing well and then not playing as well.
“It’s about showing the coaches they can consistently trust me.”
On his time at Randwick during the summer, Collins said: “It was a really good experience.
“I was a bit frustrated the past few years and going there helped.
“I was there with one of my close mates, Tom (Stephenson), and it was good to go down there, learning from the players and coaches and taking things in that I’ve not really seen before.
“I’ve been at Northampton all my career and you learn off the coaches here, but there’s also stuff you can take from other coaches and players around and that’s what I did.
“I grew in confidence and tried to get some form together.”
Collins and Stephenson have both joked how they ‘got a bit fat’ during their time in Australia as they were not training as much but were eating more.
However, putting weight on - in muscle rather than fat - has been a big focus for Collins, who now looks more attuned to the physical demands of the Premiership.
“Last year I wasn’t playing much and my biggest thing I was speaking to the coaches about is trying to put some weight on and add some more physical edge to my game because I felt that was a bit where I was struggling quite a lot,” Collins said.
“I’ve tried to prove myself to the coaches and I’ve improved since going to Australia.
“I’ve put on a lot of weight. I’m a bit fat at the minute, trying to get that down, but I feel in good stead.
“I try to have about five meals a day, depending on how much we’re training.
“I can’t keep weight on at all so I can eat as much as I want, awful food and still not put any weight on. It’s so frustrating.
“But I had a good chat with our nutritionist here and put me on a proper plan.
“Instead of snacking on rubbish things it’s about snacking on something proper, which is going to give me more value.
“It’s definitely hard, but it’s something I needed to do.”
While bulking up was a big thing for the wing, he also knew he needed game time to become the player he, and everyone else, feels he can be.
And Collins said: “Sometimes you go out of season and get big, but I felt like me going away to Australia and playing would be the best thing.
“I’ve never actually got a run of games together.
“The Wanderers season, you play here and there and it’s hard to learn and move forward with that because there’s such a gap between games at times.
“Going away and playing week in, week out with Randwick helped me get used to things and grow in confidence.
“I’m still working on things and hopefully it’s something I can build on going forward.”
Collins certainly built on it last weekend, as his sublime try helped Saints to topple Tigers and end a run of seven successive east midlands derby defeats.
“It feels good getting on the scoresheet but that is on the back of a good team performance,” Collins said.
“Having the lads around me doing the stuff they’re doing just makes it so much easier.
“It was a really good feeling to score against Leicester.
“As a young lad you dream about scoring against Leicester in an east midlands derby.
“I’ve been watching east midlands derbies since the age of six or seven so it was a great feeling to go through and score.”
Now Collins and his team-mates know they must back up that big Tigers showing against Bath on Friday night.
“It’s not just about my consistency, but the consistency as a team,” said Collins, who will be up against in-form Bath wing Semesa Rokoduguni.
“The week before last we didn’t have a great game when we lost to Saracens, but all pre-season we’d been playing really well, playing good rugby and that showed against Leicester.
“It was so frustrating because we went into the Saracens week feeling we were going to do well and it didn’t really come off.
“But we went out against Leicester and did well so we need to build on that this week now.”