Belfast Telegraph

Past can't help us beat Blues: Dowson


Phil Dowson
Phil Dowson
David Kelly

By David Kelly

If anyone can relate to the sense of foreboding felt by Northampton Saints this week, then Phil Dowson can wanly nod acquiescence.

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But he is also one who can smile sagely at the opportunity presented by tomorrow's trip to the Aviva Stadium to face the rampant Champions Cup favourites Leinster.

No longer the barrelling ball-carrier from the base of the scrum perhaps, but the forwards coach can still draw on the vast experience of not one, but two seismic second-leg upsets in December's traditional back-to-back European weekends.

Chiefly, of course, in 2013, after one of the most scintillating displays of the Matt Williams era in Franklin's Gardens was followed by an 18-9 reverse in front of a stunned Dublin audience.

A year earlier, Northampton had dished out the same humbling lesson to Ulster in Belfast. Can a remarkable hat-trick of upsets be truly possible?

"It can't be anything but an experience," insisted Dowson, who won one of his seven English caps in the 2012 Twickenham win against Ireland.

Despite his relative lack of international exposure, he was nevertheless one of Stuart Lancaster's key leadership figures, and his move into coaching surprised few who worked with him.

"Whether it's a good or a bad one depends on how we perform and maintain our standards," admitted the ex-Saints player.

"Either way it will be valuable to these guys in terms of their career, in terms of something to look back on and lessons learned, whether that's technical, emotional or physical.

"There are all these different bits and pieces that young players will understand, and playing at a great stadium in front of a big crowd around Christmas time, it's pretty exciting.

"It's one of those days where you wish you were still playing.

"But, to be honest, I don't think looking back at that game in 2013 is a huge amount of use. What we do look at is times during the past two years when players have stepped up."

Under Kris Boyd, the midlanders' expressive approach has propelled them to the top of a skewed Premiership, but they met their match last week in a ruthlessly clinical Blues.

Now they have a shot to nothing, and with Leinster already minus Johnny Sexton and James Ryan, any sense of vulnerability, should the English side endeavour to locate it, might be tested.

"The confidence is still high and we've got a big group of players who want to play," added Dowson. "We've still got an opportunity to get out of the group and we need to play way better."

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