The Big Interview: Alex Mitchell on his battle with Cobus Reinach for the scrum-half jersey and Northampton Saints’ Premiership Rugby Cup final chances
Alex Mitchell is in awe of the ‘electric’ form of fellow Northampton Saint and scrum-half rival Cobus Reinach – but has promised to follow his own route to the top as he plots Premiership Rugby Cup glory this weekend.
Mitchell and his Saints teammates have crucial home advantage for Sunday’s final against Saracens at Franklin’s Gardens, with the first silverware of the domestic season on the line.
The opportunity to lift a major trophy on home soil is undoubtedly an enticing one for any young player, particularly 22-year-old Mitchell, who came through the club’s academy.
But as he finds himself in competition with in-form Reinach, the youngster knows that a first-team jersey is far from a given.
That competition, though, is spurring Mitchell on to be a better player – even if he accepts he must tread his own path to the summit of the game.
“Healthy competition is always good for the club,” he said.
“Cobus has been great this season. Having a player like that scoring tries just makes the team perform better and get better results. He’s been great with me personally on and off the pitch.
“He’s a great player, an electric player, so you obviously want to learn off him. He teaches me a lot but you don’t want to change your game too much to be like someone else.
“Personally speaking, I’m looking for consistency of good performances.
“As with any player, you have good games and bad games but with experience, that consistency comes. I’ve enjoyed the season so far, getting a good amount of game time, starting and from the bench. I’m pushing what I’m good at so I can move forward even more.”
✨ We’ve seen wonder tries, slick team performances and BAGS of talent ✨
👊 It’s all lead to this 👊
Battle lines drawn ⚔️ nervous fans 😬 stage set 🎭
🔥 Here we go 🔥 pic.twitter.com/VLKMTiryYK
— Premiership Rugby (@premrugby) March 12, 2019
A sold-out Franklin’s Gardens awaits Mitchell and Co when they take on high-flying Saracens on home turf.
And the scrum-half believes a big performance and a trophy would be the ideal way to repay both the club’s loyal fans for their support, and Northampton’s coaching staff for giving him chances in the set-up.
“As a player, you don’t play in many finals,” he said.
“It’s a great opportunity, especially because it’s sold out at the Gardens. I’m really excited for it.
“Playing in a final in front of a packed-out crowd is what players want and personally, I’m just looking forward to getting out there with the boys and hopefully putting on a performance for the fans who come out to watch us every week.
“A home final in front of your own fans is a great opportunity. We’re expecting a loud atmosphere that the boys always love.
“To get some silverware for [Chris Boyd] and the coaches would be great for the club and obviously, the Premiership Rugby Cup is an important trophy to win. We’re really looking forward to the opportunity to start off with some silverware on Sunday.”
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Mitchell is just one of a number of exciting young talents in the Northampton ranks at present, with the likes of Rory Hutchinson – Gallagher Premiership Player of the Month for February – and James Grayson also excelling.
And with opportunities aplenty for the trio in the Premiership Rugby Cup, and a Challenge Cup quarter-final away to Clermont also to come, the Maidstone-born player believes Saints’ starlets have the ideal platform from which to develop their careers.
He added: “A lot of the younger lads play in this competition and we’ve had a good run of games, so that just shows how it’s a squad effort. For the younger lads, it’s a great competition for them to push on and get the confidence to go and play in the Premiership and onwards.
“There’s a good group of players coming through. The coaches are great with us, giving us a lot of confidence, and we’re getting good opportunities. That bodes well for the future of the club.
“If your coaches have the confidence to put you in the team, that gives you confidence as a player.
“Playing week in, week out, you’re getting confidence through that and then you want to go and put a performance back on the pitch for them. A lot of the young lads are taking their opportunities and it’s great to see.”
💣🔥 Our 4️⃣ #PremRugbyCup semi-finalists came to play 💣🔥
We had audacious dummies 🤪 stiff-arm fends 🖐 ploughing trundles 🚜 thundering hits 💥
And…a whole lot of youthful exuberance overflowing onto the pitch 😎
— Premiership Rugby (@premrugby) February 12, 2019
There is clearly a sense that Northampton are a club on the up but Chris Boyd’s young side face a serious test of their credentials on Sunday against a Saracens team also gunning for glory in three competitions.
The Allianz Park outfit triumphed 27-38 at Franklin’s Gardens back when the teams met back in September but Mitchell is taking confidence from the way in which Saints rattled their big-name opponents that day.
“Physically and tactically, we’ve got to be switched on for Saracens,” he said.
“They’re a great team. They’ve got a lot of good players but we put a lot of onus on ourselves.
“At the start of the season, we put a lot of pressure on them and they struggled to deal with us.
“Some of our performances have been really good so we know if we stick to our game plan and play to our capacities, and put a good performance out, then we’ve got a good chance to lift some silverware.”
With a Gallagher Premiership Rugby play-off place still up for grabs and the Challenge Cup also within reach, victory in Sunday’s final would be the perfect way for Saints to prepare for a make-or-break final few months of the season.
“We need to win games, particularly at home and then pick up points away,” Mitchell concluded.
“It’s tight from third down. We need that consistency throughout the pitch to get those points and reach the top six.
“It’s great to rack up some of the scorelines we have. We’ve had some great results like Sale at home but also some disappointing ones like against Newcastle and Bristol last weekend.
“I think we just need to sort our consistency out in our performances and we know if we’re beating teams by a lot of points, that we can do it.
“Against other sides, we haven’t quite performed so we need to add the consistency that we’ve been missing at times this season.”