In their relentless pursuit of a home semi-final, Tom Stephenson insists Aviva Premiership Rugby leaders Northampton Saints have learnt their lessons from last year.
This time last season the Saints’ international cohort returned from their two-month absence, only for the club to lose their next three league games on the trot.
They eventually secured that coveted home semi-final and edged past third-place Leicester Tigers at Franklin’s Gardens before lifting the Aviva Premiership Rugby trophy at Twickenham.
That is a moment Stephenson is eager to repeat and despite their nine-point lead at the top of the table with five rounds to go, the young centre insists there is no room for complacency this time.
And, much like the rest of the squad, he is raring to put right their LV= Cup semi-final defeat to Saracens – which denied them a home final in the competition – two weeks ago.
“The international guys have come straight back into training but last year when they came back we didn’t go too well,” said Stephenson. “We have spoken about that and we don’t want the same to happen this year.
“I don’t think we are feeling the pressure but we know what we have got to do and it is in our hands to lose.
“The Saracens game wasn’t the result we wanted but it gave us a chance to recharge, I guess. In the first half we played well but in the second half we let ourselves down. We were confident going into it and we would have been even more confident at Franklin’s Gardens.
“The week after Sarries we had a little bit of a chance to rest, then it was just about getting the legs going again.”
And while the Saints have plenty still to play for this season – defending their Aviva Premiership Rugby title and travelling to Clermont for a European Rugby Champions Cup quarter-final – Stephenson also has personal ambitions.
After his previous involvement with the England Under-20s and impressive form for Northampton, a Saxons call-up is next on the agenda.
But the 20-year-old admits simply keeping hold of his Saints shirt, with the likes of Luther Burrell and George Pisi around, is keeping him busy enough.
“If that came along, I would be ecstatic,” he added. “That’s a long way off and my thoughts are on trying to secure a position with Saints at 12 or 13.
“When you are a young player you just want to get the game time – when Luther is back I have got to fight for my shirt.
“When the team selection comes up you just think about what you are doing and then at the weekend you have just got to perform.”
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