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Craig: All hands on deck at Northampton Saints

James Craig was the man tasked with stepping up for Northampton Saints in the absence of Courtney Lawes last weekend and after their scrum rocked Saracens, it was a clear case of business as usual.

There are very few teams who desire the scalp of the Aviva Premiership Rugby champions quite as much as Sarries after their heartbreak in last May’s final, but it was Saints who landed the early punches at Allianz Park.
James Wilson crossed in the first minute – breaking a 14-game try-blank – before adding another while Phil Dowson added a third midway through the first half.
It was a start that Mark McCall’s troops never fully recovered from and victory meant Northampton took their win tally over the London side to four in their last five games.
And while a player of England international Lawes’ pedigree is undoubtedly missed at Franklin’s Gardens, Craig says he’s been ready to seamlessly slot in no matter the situation.
“Pretty much throughout the squad the boys remain the same – we’ve got a group of 20 players or so who know the job and can perform to the same levels no matter who is away,” said the lock.
“Training is often harder on a Tuesday than what we face at the weekend because it’s a battle to make the squad, let alone start.
“Often we’re on the bench when the internationals are around but we get good opportunities to play whether they’re here or not, the coaches look after us and make sure we’re ready for whatever situation we’re needed – it’s not as though we are lacking in experience.
“I don’t think there’s a massive lot we’ve done differently against (Saracens) recently, it can be as simple as cutting out the efforts we are making.
“And I think when they get behind by two or three scores, it’s a bit more difficult for them to catch up because of the way they’re set up.
“We made a really fast start and put them under pressure, the second half was sloppy from us but when you’re up against a team like that you know they’re going to come back at you.”
There was little to cheer about the week before however, as Exeter Chiefs continued to prove why they’re Aviva Premiership Rugby contenders this year after shocking Franklin’s Gardens.
And Craig says he can see a lot of similarities between the Chiefs and the reigning Saints.
He added: “You look at the way they’ve improved, it’s the continuity they have as they haven’t changed much personnel.
“We pride ourselves on our fitness and we would have backed ourselves to score in the last ten minutes or so, but they’re also conditioned to a very high level like us.
“We’ve had a few decent battles up there and to be honest I don’t think we turned up. But there was an opportunity with us missing a lot of players and they’re that type of team who can beat anyone.
“As champions teams don’t so much as double their effort, but find that little bit extra to beat you – there’s never a problem getting yourself up for teams like Saracens and we have to make sure we keep the motivation up for every game.”

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