Sale Sharks stopped a dominant Northampton Saints in their tracks last weekend and while defeat is never sought-after at Franklin’s Gardens, Joel Hodgson believes it was a welcome eye-opener.
Such has been Saints’ first half of the season that they could afford to lose at Sale and still remain top of the Aviva Premiership Rugby table as they continue their quest for back-to-back titles.
But it was a stark reminder that in this league, things quite easily don’t go to plan as Steve Diamond’s troops emerged from the AJ Bell Stadium by far the worthy winners.
Hodgson came on for the remaining eight minutes and will take his place on the bench for Saints’ crunch European Rugby Champions Cup crunch tie at the Ospreys this weekend.
And while Northampton could point to their swathe of second-row absentees at Sale – including Courtney Lawes, James Craig and Christian Day – the scrum-half insists excuses don’t wash at the Gardens.
“There’ve been a lot of things going on over the last few weeks that we’ve had to get over and last weekend was not ideal,” said Hodgson. “We feel like we haven’t been quite on top of our game, little errors have been creeping in.
“It’s been a kick up the backside and hopefully it’ll be a blessing in disguise, a chance to take stock of things.
“It’s a great position to be in as we’re still top of the Premiership, top of our group, knowing we still have to improve.
“The AJ Bell is always a tough place to go and it was very windy on the weekend, and they did very well to play to those conditions and cause us a lot of trouble. It was a wake-up call we needed.
“You never like to be in the team through injuries but it’s great to be a part of things and I’ve never played in the top-tier of Europe before.
“I’m very excited and hopefully I’ll pick up a few minutes here or there and really test myself.”
Northampton ended the Ospreys’ unbeaten streak back in October with a crushing 34-6 win on home turf, though another win is unlikely to come easy at the Liberty Stadium.
And with Wales fly-half Dan Biggar on the prowl, Hodgson admits Saints’ own arsenal of weapons will need to rise to the occasion.
“We’re very aware of Biggar, he has something like a 93 percent success rate with his kicks in the Pro 12 so we know what he’s capable of and have to stop him.
“He showed glimpses of what he could do in Franklin’s Gardens despite our victory. He keeps the Ospreys ticking but we feel like we can keep him under control and we have a lot of weapons of our own to hopefully get the win.”
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