23 March 2023
Fixture: London Irish vs Northampton Saints
Competition: Gallagher Premiership, Round 21
Date: Saturday 25th March 2023
Venue: Gtech Community Stadium
Officials: Referee: Anthony Woodthorpe; Assistant Referee 1: Harry Wallbaum; Assistant Referee 2: Wayne Falla; No4: Jonathan Healy; TMO: Dean Richards; Timekeeper: John Burtenshaw; Citing Officer: Duncan Bell (remote).
Northampton Saints travel to London Irish for Round 21 of the Gallagher Premiership, as the Exiles commemorate their St. Patrick’s Party fixture against Saints for the second successive year.
Following on from cup final heartbreak against Exeter Chiefs, Declan Kidney’s side return to league action having lost just one of their last six Premiership games (22-25 at home to Leicester Tigers), which was their only defeat at Gtech Community Stadium in the tournament since October.
Saints’ form in Premiership Rugby is also something to appreciate after losing just one of their last five outings, that defeat however came at the hands of Bristol Bears, their biggest ever loss in the Premiership with a 62-8 reverse away from home.
The famed attacking prowess of each side has continued this season; Irish being the most efficient team in the red zone in the league, scoring a try 31% of the time and been awarded either a penalty or a try during 61% of their visits.
Irish have also scored more tries from lineouts than any other team (46), with Saints scoring more tries than any other team (70), making the most try assists (52) and clean breaks (181) also.
However, Northampton have conceded the most turnovers per 80 minutes, an average of 13.9 per 80 minutes.
Irish also have the highest rate of tackle success in the league (90.2%), with Irish’s Tom Pearson (205) and Saint Alex Moon (208) the top two tacklers in the division.
Something will have to give this Saturday evening; with Irish unable to snatch victory against Northampton in the Premiership since January 2020 and Saints themselves only winning once away from home the league since early October.
In the reverse fixture in the 2022/23 Premiership season, Irish failed to walk away from a game without any points for only the second time this campaign in a 38-22 loss at the cinch Stadium at Franklin’s Gardens.
Nevertheless, Phil Dowson’s men have tasted defeat in their last two visits to Brentford this campaign, both in the Premiership Rugby Cup, with Irish losing just twice at the Gtech in 2022/23 domestic competition.
The Boss- Phil Dowson:
A former Saint in his playing days as well as his coaching career, Phil Dowson played 186 times for the East Midlands outfit but started out his career with Newcastle Falcons.
He would conclude his time on-field with a two-year stint at Worcester Warriors before re-joining the set-up at Northampton as part of their coaching staff at the end of the 2016/17 season.
A one-time back-row player, Dowson etched his name into Saints’ history books after lifting the Premiership, Heineken Cup, Challenge Cup, and also captaining the 2009/10 Anglo-Welsh Cup winning team in his time at Franklin’s Gardens.
The 41-year-old ascended to the Director of Rugby position at the start of this season to succeed Chris Boyd, with Sam Vesty also moving up to the role of Head Coach.
One to Watch – James Ramm:
Summer acquisition James Ramm has dotted down seven times in 14 starts for Northampton Saints, with scores in the Gallagher Premiership, Heineken Champions Cup and Premiership Rugby Cup.
Two of his tries came in a pool stage cup encounter with the Exiles, where he played out 59 minutes of the tie that saw Irish come back and win 28-26 in the final action of the game.
He signed from the NSW Waratahs ahead of the 2022/23 campaign after being a regular in the Super Rugby Pacific side’s matchday 23, where he built a reputation for his pace and ability to beat defenders.
Before his time with the New South Wales outfit, Ramm was introduced as a product of the Sydney Shute Shield side Randwick before going onto represent Australia in the 2018 World Rugby Under-20 Championship.
Adept across the back three, the 24-year-old beat five defenders and made two line breaks in Northampton’s 45-26 home victory against Bath Rugby in Round 20.
Ramm’s crowning moment of his nascent Saints career to date came in fiery East Midlands derby against Leicester Tigers; making a try assist, ranking in the top 10 players of the round in carries (18), metres (81) and offloads (three), and was subsequently awarded the Player of the Match.
Classic Encounter – London Irish 39-17 Northampton Saints – 6th October 2012 – Aviva Premiership:
Brian Smith’s London Irish ended visitors Northampton Saints’ unbeaten record with a thumping 39-17 win at the Madejski Stadium, scoring four tries on a fine afternoon in Berkshire.
Jonathan Joseph would play a key role in the affair, ending a 24-minute stalemate by combining with Marland Yarde to dot down for the game’s opening score.
Irish continued to apply pressure with a Steven Shingler penalty, Joseph taking the ball to the line with hooker David Paice dotting down in the subsequent phases before a 40-metre drop goal from Ian Humphreys sent Irish 18-0 up going into half-time.
Joseph would create an opening off a throw-in after an initial strong opening from Saints in the second period, Topsy Ojo finishing this time before another Shingler kick and bustling Jamie Gibson score put Irish out of sight.
Current Director of Rugby Phil Dowson dotted down for Saints after Ken Pisi scored a try in the corner, but six further points from full-back Shingler secured the win for the hosts in what was the last time Irish beat Saints by four points or more.
Tries: Jonathan Joseph, David Paice, Topsy Ojo, Jamie Gibson
Conversions: Steven Shingler (2)
Penalties: Steven Shingler (4)
Drop goals: Ian Humphreys
Tries: Ken Pisi, Phil Dowson
Conversions: Steven Myler (2)
Penalties: Steven Myler
Speaking after a 45-26 win over Bath Rugby, Northampton Saints fly-half Fin Smith has stated that the next three games for his side will be the biggest of his career to date as the run-in intensifies against London Irish this Saturday.
“Unfortunately we’re out of Europe, but looking on the bright side we’ve got a little bit more time where we haven’t got games over the next few weeks to sharpen the axe and make sure we’re firing, and we can attack these next three games head-on.
“They’re certainly the three most important games I’ll have played in and as a squad, we’ve got massive aspirations to end up in that top four.”
Saints bounced back to form after suffering a 62-8 reverse on the road to Bristol Bears, with Smith notching 15 points on the evening at the cinch Stadium at Franklin’s Gardens against Johann van Graan’s side.
“It was good just to confirm in our minds that the team that played last week wasn’t really us – the team that’s been winning games and playing attacking rugby is us.
“It wasn’t a nice week, it was pretty dark viewing on Monday, going through the Bristol game as a group and there were some anxious and tense feelings all week after a result like that.
“You start doubting stuff a little bit, but getting over the line against Bath was massive.
“There was a tight point around 55 minutes when it could have probably swung either way, but us getting over the line and pushing through that period was so important for the rest of our season.”