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Gaffney challenges Northampton Saints to earn European cup spot

(Photo: Getty Images)

By Neale Harvey

REJUVENATED Northampton are targeting a top six finish after last week’s narrow victory over Gloucester.

Alan Gaffney, right, the club’s Australian stand-in supremo, is convinced Saints have the players, they just need the confidence.

After overseeing victory in his first game in charge, Gaffney told The Rugby Paper: “We’re still concentrating on a top half finish and while we’re ten points away at the moment, we’ve just got to keep winning.

“We’d like to think we can win nine on the trot, but if we win six or seven we’ll be there or thereabouts for that top six spot.

“This is a strong Saints squad, it just needs a lot more confidence. That’s what we’re trying to build.”

Gaffney has been impressed with the work of former England and Saints back rower Phil Dowson, below, who rejoined the club from Worcester last summer.

He added: “For a person who’s only been coaching a short time, you’d think Dowse has been at it for years because he’s very, very good.

“He knows when to be tough, but the players don’t take exception to him and he’s right on the money with how up front and honest he is with them.

“Dowse is like a lot of young coaches in that he has a lot to learn, but he has plenty of energy and some very good ideas.

“He’s got a fantastic way with people and commands respect without being an autocrat.”

Meanwhile, Gaffney admits he can see no end to the exodus of star players from Australia.

(Photo: David Rogers / Getty Images)

He believes coaching standards have hit rock bottom and with salary caps at the four Australian Super Rugby franchises being dwarfed by those in France and England, he foresees more top players being tempted overseas.

Gaffney explained: “You look at guys like Dave Dennis, Sitaleki Timani, Matt Toomua and Will Skelton and they left Australia very early.

“We’re doing it on a shoestring in Australia and things have to change because we’re losing guys who are not even close to ending their careers.

“It’s a massive worry as far as the national team is concerned and one of the things we’ve been very remiss about is developing coaches.

“We know we’ll lose players, because of the financial discrepancies, but we’re not developing players to replace them.

“For example, nine and ten is an area where we’re struggling – we’ve got Will Genia, Nick Phipps and Bernard Foley, but who’s beyond that?

“The player exodus will continue but while New Zealand has good coaching and a conveyor belt of emerging talent, Australia is struggling.”

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