Ben Howard is expecting a big, physical battle when his Worcester Warriors side face Northampton Saints on Saturday.
Full-back Howard, 24, said the Warriors’ camp is full of confidence, having beaten high-flying Saracens and put in a spirited showing against Exeter Chiefs in their last two Aviva Premiership Rugby matches.
Gary Gold’s side were beaten 48-32 by the Chiefs in their previous match, despite leading 18-17 at half-time.
However, a telling period at the start of the second half saw Worcester reduced to 14 men after Alafoti Faosiliva was sin-binned, with Exeter running in three more tries before the hour mark.
But a late Jackson Willison score gave Warriors a bonus point, and Howard says the feeling among the squad is far from despondent.
“Five points against the top two sides last year – we’d have taken that at the start of the season,” Howard said.
“The mood after Exeter was actually quite positive.
“We didn’t drop away, but we had a period at the start of the second half where the game got away from us and we got a yellow card.
“We lost momentum a bit and in that period, Exeter are a quality side and they got away from us.
“We didn’t drop our heads, we came back strong and got a bonus-point try too. We came off positive and we’re ready to go for this weekend.”
— Worcester Warriors🏉 (@WorcsWarriors) February 18, 2017
Northampton are smarting from their second-half collapse at Newcastle Falcons last time out.
And Howard is expecting a tough battle when the sides meet at Franklin’s Gardens.
“They’re a big, powerful side and that’s the way they like to play,” Howard added.
“Northampton score their points generally by getting field position in the opposition half. We need to counter that by having good discipline and not by overplaying ourselves in our own half.
“Our last few games against Northampton have always been physical battles, and none more so than this weekend, especially after their last performance, which they’re not too happy about.
“It will be a big test, but we’ll travel with a lot of confidence after our displays in the last two weeks against good sides.”
🎥 “We’re disappointed to lose but there were some encouraging signs.”
Gary Gold reflects on Warriors’ bonus-point performance vs Exeter… pic.twitter.com/SQEjorEge7
— Worcester Warriors🏉 (@WorcsWarriors) February 19, 2017
Howard also reserved praise for departing No8 Phil Dowson, who will take up a coaching role at Northampton at the end of the season.
The 35-year-old spent six years at the Saints before moving to Sixways Stadium last summer.
Howard says Dowson’s influence on himself and the rest of the squad has been immense, and believes he will excel in his new role.
“I can’t speak highly enough of Phil, I know him well off the pitch as well,” Howard said.
“I think he’ll be awesome in the role he’s taking on, I think he could have offered something as a player for another couple of years, but he is getting on a bit!
“He is a true rugby man, and for the help he’s given to me personally, I’ll always be grateful for that.”