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Challenge Cup winning league coach praised for 'changing the mindset' at Northampton

By Josh Raisey
Lee Radford, the Northampton Saints assistant coach looks on during the Northampton Saints training session held at Franklin's Gardens on July 18, 2023 in Northampton, England. (Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images)

Northampton Saints showcased their credentials as a force to be reckoned with this season in the Gallagher Premiership with a 18-12 win over reigning champions Saracens on Saturday at the StoneX Stadium.

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The win lifted Phil Dowson’s side to fifth in the league, level on points with Saracens in fourth place and means they have now won five of their last six matches after a shaky start to the season.

The Saints have never been lacking in attacking potency and points have not been hard to come by in recent seasons, but it has been their defence which has been their undoing. However, they managed to keep a Saracens side who have scored north of 30 points in their last four matches scoreless going into half-time.

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This defensive revolution has been down to ex rugby league coach Lee Radford, according to Saints star Tommy Freeman. Radford arrived at Franklin’s Gardens at the beginning of the season having previously been in charge of the Castleford Tigers in the Super League. Prior to that he had coached the Dallas Jackals in Major League Rugby, which was his first job in rugby union following a playing career where he represented England in league and had coached Hull FC to back-to-back Challenge Cup victories.

Freeman has credited the 44-year-old with changing the mindset of the club this season as they search to improve on their fourth place finish last year.

“A lot of it is down to Lee Radford coming in,” Freeman said to northamptonsaints.co.uk.

“Defence has its foundations and we haven’t changed too many fundamentals from what we were doing before, it’s more about changing the mindset.

“Radders brings that different energy from his rugby league background. He’s been awesome, he gets us fired up and we’re loving working with him.”

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“Ultimately it is about energy and intent, and that is what we are going after in training.

“We know that if we put our game on the pitch and come out with energy and intent like that, then we can put a lot of teams away, and we have got the skills to do it.

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“We had a slight immaturity in the previous seasons, but if we keep backing up our defensive performances and bring loads of energy, I think the results will come.”

The 22-year-old England international added that it was the memory of the 38-15 loss to Saracens in the semi-finals last season that spurred the Saints on to get a shock victory on Saturday.

He said: “There were definitely a few conversations in the week about [the semi-final], it still hurts a few of us. The thing that we took from it was that we didn’t throw a punch in that game, especially the first half, and by the second half it was too late.

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“Saturday’s game was all about coming out with energy, firing first and I thought we did that well.”

The Saints will hope that their Premiership form can be carried over onto the European front over the next two weeks as they switch their attention to the Investec Champions Cup, beginning with a trip to Scotland on Friday to take on the Glasgow Warriors before hosting three-time champions Toulon the week after.

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