Chris Boyd has insisted it is too early to say if Northampton have got their post-lockdown selection strategy wrong – even though their one-win-in-four record has seen them fall off the pace in the race for Gallagher Premiership top four qualification. 

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The Saints were in fourth when the league was shut down last March due to the pandemic. At that juncture, there were only eleven points behind leaders Exeter but they now welcome the Chiefs to Franklin’s Gardens on Friday night with Northampton 24 points behind the table-toppers. 

Whereas many clubs in the Premiership have targeted wins by putting out their full strength XV for specific games and inviting inevitable defeat in others by selecting very much understrength, Northampton took the decision to have two even-strength XVs.

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EPCR chairman Simon Halliday reflects on the changes for the 2020/21 Champions Cup

However, this balanced approach hasn’t produced the results they wanted and their post-lockdown form is currently the ninth-worst in the Premiership, their five-point haul from four outings enabling Wasps, who have taken three wins and 14 points, take over occupancy of fourth place, seven points clear of Boyd’s strugglers. 

Boyd insisted it won’t be until Northampton complete this next block of three games – leaders Exeter this Friday, third place Bristol away next Tuesday and fellow strugglers Leicester the following Sunday – that he can definitively say whether he has got the strategy wrong or not, but current indications suggest they have.  

Asked if he would have selected differently for the defeats to Wasps, Bath and Harlequins interspersed by their lone win at London Irish, Boyd said: “I don’t think we would have but that is probably a relevant question in three weeks’ time. We have either got this thing wholly wrong and we have underestimated or miscalculated the fact that we had two teams we thought were capable of being competitive.

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“The interesting thing is if you look at Sale as an example, going strong and they put out pretty much the back end of their roster, a pretty weakened team, and they had a really good victory against Wasps. 

“If you’re going to go strong, weak, strong, if your weak side is good enough to get a victory, particularly a key victory, that is an absolute bonus for you and that worked. We calculated that we thought we were too far behind points-wise to have the luxury of not chasing points across most of the games. 

“Every club will be unique. It will be unique to where you started from a ladder position point of view to what your roster looked like and who you have got to play. When we sat down as a group we said with our draw that is left, what is the best way for us to do this to keep guys fresh and fit to try and get performance. 

“We felt the best way to do it was to split into two relatively even teams with the four-day turnarounds (between games). What that (interchange) gave us was eight- and nine-day turnarounds. What we haven’t got is the performance, so the question is has the performance come from the selection policy or has the performance come from other factors and that is where we are challenging ourselves as a coaching group.”

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Asked if he feared he had got it wrong, he added: “It’s too early to tell. But right now, one game out of four, you’d probably say yes. But in all of those games, as an example, if you have got (Alex) Moon, (David) Ribbans, (Nick) Isiekwe, (Api) Ratuniyarawa, whichever two locks we pick, I don’t think there is much performance outcome ability between those four. 

(Fraser) Dingwall, (Rory) Hutchinson, (Matt) Proctor, (Piers) Francis, we think there is not a whole lot of difference between those guys… so, did we get it wrong? Time will tell.

“If we’re trying to dig into the lack of outcome from the selection, my opinion is the lack of outcome has come from performances that came from too many errors, too many poor decisions and that inconsistency and our inability to convert points under pressure has been significant. Has that come from selection, I don’t think so? But everyone will have a different opinion.”

POST-LOCKDOWN FORM GUIDE

1. Exeter W4 PTS 18

2. Saracens W3 PTS 16

3. Bath W3 PTS 15 

4. Wasps W3 PTS 14

5=. Bristol W2 PTS 10

5=. Gloucester W2 PTS 10

5=. Sale W2 PTS 10 

8. Harlequins W2 PTS 9

9=. Worcester W1 PTS 5 

9=. Northampton W1 PTS 5

11. Leicester W1 PTS 4 

12. London Irish W0 PTS 1  

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