Director of Rugby Stuart Hooper spoke to the media this afternoon as he looked ahead to Sunday's round 11 fixture away to Northampton Saints. After a second win in as many matches last Friday to Gloucester Rugby the Blue, Black and White next travel to Franklin's Gardens.
ON PLAYERS PLAYING OUT OF POSITION
I think they’ve done really well. When you consider the teams we’ve played against in the weeks when we’ve not had our fit and available second rows, they’ve been a big challenge – Sale are a massive set-piece team with a pretty formidable pack.
Our set-piece platform has been outstanding for the last two weeks. Whether that be Josh Bayliss or Mike Williams or whoever is stepping up in both the line-out and the scrum – which would be my first two concerns when you don’t have your second rows – I think they’ve done a tremendous job and I’ve had lots of boys telling me they’re happy to have a game in the second row if needed.
It’s a good sign. They want to play and they want to dig in for the team, which I love.
ON sunday's opposition
Credit to Saints for their win at Exeter. It’s never easy to go there and win and they got a win there. I think they were dogged, their try-line defence was very strong and they possess the players to do both that and the wide game they played so well at the end of last season.
For us it’s a good challenge, it’s a big challenge but one that holds no fears. We had a very strong performance up there last year, post-lockdown, and it’s a good place to go, an exciting place to go, the surface is outstanding.
They’ve not played there for an awful long time due to a number of cancellations due to Covid and I’m sure they’ll be excited to be back there but equally our guys will be excited to go there, give it our best shot and put everything out there on the field as we have done over the last few weeks.
ON THE REVISED EPCR TOURNAMENT FORMATS
It’s very positive that we’ve got to a point where there’s still European competition. From our point of view, we’ll wait and see what the draw looks like in March. The format is exciting, a last 16 followed by a quarter-final straight away the week after. It’s knockout rugby, which is great for everybody, it’s exciting, it’s a different edge to the competition and we’ll be looking forward to that competition and having our lads back and available from international rugby by then as well.
It’s credit to the organisers first and foremost to make sure we’ve still got some sort of competition and a meaningful competition as well, so we’ll approach it and be excited about getting into it and having a go.
From the clubs’ point of view there’s a massive desire to play the competition. We don’t know exactly how it’s going to pan out but you could hope in the latter stages that competition could attract some supporters in some way, hopefully, so I think it’s absolutely the right thing to do.
ON THE PLAYING GROUP AND EXPECTATIONS
A successful squad has to have a good mix of people who can bounce off each other but can pull us in the same direction.
We’ve got a really strong group. We work on it a lot, we work on what we expect of people both at the top of the squad and coming into the squad, building the squad. With the Pathway guys, we expect them to come in with the right behaviours. They don’t yet have all the ability on the field, they haven’t played 100 Test matches or even 100 Premiership games and when you’ve not got that, your behaviour has to be bang on. We work on it. I do believe we’ve got a good number and good mix of leaders and we continue to develop them as well.