Grayson gunning for more Premiership Rugby Cup success with Northampton Saints
The Premiership Rugby Cup returns for its second season this weekend, and last year’s Breakthrough Player of the Year James Grayson insists Northampton Saints have their eyes firmly set on defending their title.
After overcoming Saracens 23-9 in the final at Franklin’s Gardens in March, the Saints return from a long pre-season to take on Sale Sharks in Round One this weekend.
Grayson, 21, enjoyed a stellar campaign last time out, steering his side to glory from fly-half with a string of top performances that saw him go on to make eight Gallagher Premiership Rugby appearances.
While emphasising the value of the competition in promoting young talent to rugby’s main stage, Grayson also believes Northampton’s first piece of silverware in five years was key to pushing them towards a top-four Gallagher Premiership Rugby finish.
And on the back of a successful first season under director of rugby Chris Boyd, the youngster insists they are once again eyeing success in this season’s tournament.
“It was really positive for the squad going on to win it,” he said. “The club’s got a lot of proud history and the previous couple of years weren’t good enough.
“So, to actually win something and reach the top four was brilliant. Hopefully it’ll give us the chance to push forwards and go even better this season.
“Plenty of young boys came through in the competition and then broke into the Gallagher Premiership. There was a clear correlation between good performances in the Cup and chances in the league, which was really positive.
“With the World Cup, there’ll be even more opportunities early on and hopefully we can put the club in a good position for when the internationals return.”
A few rib-ticklers, ankle-twisters and moments of magic from the final 🙌
— Premiership Rugby (@premrugby) September 19, 2019
Saints face a tough opening test at the AJ Bell Stadium against a new-look Sale Sharks side, whose director of rugby Steve Diamond has made clear he intends to field strong line-ups throughout the competition.
The former Russia boss has named seven debutants in his first XV of the season, including all three du Preez brothers, while Josh Beaumont will captain the Sharks as they begin their hunt to better last season’s pool stage exit.
Beaten finalists last time out, Saracens travel to Wasps buoyed by their recent Premiership Rugby 7s triumph, in which they beat the Black and Gold in the competition’s showpiece.
Dai Young’s side showed plenty of promise in the shorter format however, and the likes of Callum Sirker and Paolo Odogwu will be hoping to carry their blistering try-scoring form into the 15-a-side game.
Your #PremRugbyCup refs 🕵️♂️
The men in the middle, calling the shots for the weekend's action 👊https://t.co/t0u8EbVjcO
— Premiership Rugby (@premrugby) September 18, 2019
Elsewhere, Harlequins entertain Bristol Bears, with both sides’ head coaches outlining their intention to rotate their squad during the Premiership Rugby Cup to aid fitness.
Paul Gustard – now in his second season at the Stoop – has named Max Crumpton as skipper for the season opener, while Joe Marchant returns to the line-up after his spell with England over the summer.
Toby Fricker and Tiff Eden are set to make their competitive debuts for Pat Lam’s Bears, with Shaun Malton returning to the line-up for the first time since December 2018.
The opening round of fixtures also sees Bath make the trip to last year’s Gallagher Premiership Rugby runners-up Exeter Chiefs, while Gloucester Rugby host London Irish and Worcester Warriors face Leicester Tigers.
With such an array of mouth-watering rugby action set to kick off the season in style, all eyes will be on who can secure an ever-precious win on opening weekend.