"It's the Last Dance" - Alex Mitchell Prepared For Premiership Final With Saints Legend Courtney Lawes Departing After Bath Clash - Ruck

“It’s the Last Dance” – Alex Mitchell Prepared For Premiership Final With Saints Legend Courtney Lawes Departing After Bath Clash

There is an end of an era narrative heading into the 2023/24 Premiership Rugby final, with Northampton Saints set to bid farewell to a trio of club legends after the Twickenham finale. As the long serving stalwarts Courtney Lawes, Alex Waller and Ethan Waller get set to depart, scrum half Alex Mitchell is eager to send off his teammates with a glistening piece of Premiership silverware.

The regularly reserved halfback had an added eagerness in his voice, as he discussed what has been an emotional few days on the run-up to the Twickenham curtain-caller. Mitchell has been cherishing the past few training weeks alongside his long-time teammates, and has his eyes set on a triumph over Bath this Saturday, before the three club centurions part ways with the green, black and gold brotherhood.

Alex Mitchell of Northampton Saints slips the tackle of Ollie Hoskins of Saracens during the Gallagher Premiership Rugby Semi Final match between Northampton Saints and Saracens at cinch Stadium at FranklinÕs Gardens, Northampton on 31 May 2024. – PHOTO: Tom Sandberg/PPAUK

“I think we’ve had a lot of emotion in the last couple of weeks about it, obviously, last week was huge, because if we lost that was it. So we wanted to have one more week with the boys, which we’ve done. I think this week is we want to send them off with some silverware, some legends of the club.”

“But I think it’s it’s been echoed the last couple of weeks and everyone appreciates that. It’s the last dance, we always mentioned it in the meeting. It’s a massive thing for us. I think we don’t need to touch on it too much now, because we know it’s a massive thing and to send them off with silverware, but I think for everyone, it’s a huge game.”

Courtney Lawes, Captain of Northampton Saints says goodbye to Northampton Saints fans at FranklinÕs Gardens upon his last home game during the Gallagher Premiership Rugby Semi Final match between Northampton Saints and Saracens at cinch Stadium at FranklinÕs Gardens, Northampton on 31 May 2024. – PHOTO: Tom Sandberg/PPAUK

Despite much of the focus being on the departing Saints veterans, Mitchell discussed how Fin Smith has been fearlessly calling the shots from the fly half spot. The 22-year-old continues to impress his teammates with his leadership, and Mitchell is amongst those that have been taken aback by how the former Worcester man has conducted himself upon the run-up to the Final.

“He’s been awesome. he’s been such a leader. It’s mental to think how young he is, 21 or 22. The way he bosses boys around like Courtney (Lawes) or (Alex and Ethan) Waller, he really does lead the squad. He’s got such a calm head on him as well for such a young lad. So, he’s been fantastic. He’s actually shocked me in a way of how good he’s been in all aspects of the game, not just on the pitch, off the pitch as well. He’s really fit into the squad. All the boys love him, really likeable guy. So, he’s been massive for us.”

Fin Smith of Northampton Saints looks on during the Gallagher Premiership Rugby match between Northampton Saints and Exeter Chiefs at Franklins Gardens, Northampton on 12 November 2023. – PHOTO: Patrick Khachfe/PPAUK

Northampton secured their place in the Premiership Final after a triumphant home semi-final against Saracens. Mitchell was inches away from scoring a stunning breakaway try, in what would have established some solid daylight between the Saints and the ever chasing Sarries. Mitchell exploded through the Saracens defence, yet was tracked down and tackled into touch by Juan Martin Gonzalez. Mitchell expressed how he had not expected the Argentine lock to possess such pace, and recalled the telepathic interplay that led to the line-break.

“I was obviously trying to get there, but I was blowing! Yeah, I didn’t think he was that fast! He’s a fast boy, a fast lad. But, it’s just one of them. I try and create something to then try and finish it off, and I probably should have got a bit straighter to give a chance to Dingers (Fraser Dingwall) but another day, hopefully I’d finished that. But it’s them small margins.”

“You can’t really pre-plan a line break or like a little move. A lot of time its instinct. It’s what you see at the time, it’s defences through different things. A few times they’ll flash out on you and you have to use someone else. You’ve got to react to the defence and what they’re doing and go from there. You can’t really just plan it and try and do it because the defence are too good really now days.”

Alex Mitchell of Northampton Saints breaks the tackle of Alex Lewington of Saracens during the Gallagher Premiership Rugby Semi Final match between Northampton Saints and Saracens at cinch Stadium at FranklinÕs Gardens, Northampton on 31 May 2024. – PHOTO: Tom Sandberg/PPAUK

There is an underlying battle within the war of the Premiership Final, as Mitchell gets set to go toe to toe with Ben Spencer across the scrum half ranks. Mitchell and Spencer have recently been teammates in the England camp, as both scrum halves were selected by Steve Borthwick for the 2024 Guinness Six Nations campaign.

Mitchell and Spencer have been amongst the top performing nines from across the Premiership this season, and Saturday’s performance could well indicate as to who takes the nine, and who is number 21 shirt for the incoming Summer tests against Japan and New Zealand. However, once again keeping his calm head, Mitchell expressed how the best thing to come out of the competitiveness is an improvement for both halfbacks.

“I think they’ve (Bath) always been like that, especially with Spencer. He is always good about the breakdown puts pressure on a lot of nines, I think the whole team will try and do that with any team and any scrum half. So, I probably expect a bit more than that this weekend. But that’s what we’ve got to get used to, and try and deal with that, and come out on top.”

Ben Spencer, Captain of Bath Rugby watches the scrum during the Gallagher Premiership Rugby Match between Bath Rugby and Bristol Bears at the Recreation Ground on 17 November 2023. Photo: Tom Sandberg/PPAUK

“I think obviously that’s a massive part of our game, isn’t it (kick chase retention)? He’s amazing at it, and they’re all very good at it. So we need to look after that. Appreciate that’s what they’re good at, then try and get out of that battle and we can. He’s a class player and hopefully we can deal with that threat that they’ve got.”

“I did, I always try and learn from the nines, so I obviously had the luck of having (Ben) Youngs and (Danny) Care. But every nine is different, I mean, the way he (Ben Spencer) box kicks, he’s got an amazing box kick. The little things, little tweaks that he does, that he sees and he sees the game and his whole balance and kicking game is fantastic as well. So as a team we need to try and look after that and deal with that.”

Alex Mitchell of England during the Six Nations Match between England and Wales at Twickenham, London on 10 February 2024 (Photo: Tom Sandberg/PPAUK)

Mitchell is his own harshest critic, despite taking the reins of the England back-line throughout the 2023 Rugby World Cup and latest Six Nations campaign, the scrum half only wants to improve after each performance. Looking back to his outing in the semi-final win over Saracens, Mitchell picked out areas that he hopes to improve upon when his side clashes with the blue, black and whites at Twickenham.

“I think for me it was just, yeah trying to do my job. I didn’t think I did unbelievably well, I put a few mistakes out there. We actually tried to get the team to tick and push in the right areas, especially with a team like Saracens who have got a very good kicking game and internationals across the board.

“So you’ve got play in the right areas, do the right things at the right times, those little mistakes will cost you against them. So it’s trying to get the forward pack going and our backs to stick to our to the game plans in a sense, and get the job done which we did.”

Alex Mitchell of Northampton Saints Celebrates with Tommy Freeman of Northampton Saints during the Gallagher Premiership Rugby Match between Northampton Saints and Gloucester Rugby at Franklins Gardens Stadium on11 May. Photo: Richard Bierton/PPAUK

“But I think you need to expect anything. I think any game you play, it’s a final, they’ve probably come with a trick move here and there. Whether it’s a line out through the front and stuff. So you’ll obviously plan for certain things that they’re going to do but you’ve got to expect everything at the end of the day.”

“So it’s just one of them. I think when you get to these kind of massive games, across the pitch, there’s gonna be very decent players. So it’s dealing with our threats, and hoping that our players turn up as well.”

It has been a nice round decade since Northampton Saints last lifted the Premiership title, as the likes of now Saints Director of Rugby Phil Dowson ran out in the 2013/14 league triumph. Mitchell was just 17-years-old when the Saints last lifted the silverware, and recalled watching on from his Grandmothers house as green, black and gold confetti rained down upon West London.

Alex Mitchell of Northampton Saints during the Gallagher Premiership Rugby Match between Harlequins and Northampton Saints at Twickenham Stadium on 27 December 2021. Photo: Tom Sandberg/PPAUK

“I think I was at my Grandma’s house and I was watching the game. I think at the time, I was 17 or 18, I was still between Sale and then looking at Northampton as well. I then watched (Alex) Waller obviously, go and get the final try.

“Then I remember when I turned up at 18, and seeing them all I was so starstruck, as it was Waller and all of them. Watching it back then, it feels so weird, because it’s such a massive game. Now I’m actually lucky enough to be involved in one, so it’s so awesome, kind of that whole cycle of watching them when I was younger at Grandma’s house and admiring them, and now I’m getting a chance to do it myself. So it’s quite cool.”

Alex Waller of Northampton Saints during the Gallagher Premiership Rugby Semi Final Match between Saracens and Northampton Saints at Stonex Stadium on 13 May 2023. Photo: Tom Sandberg/PPAUK

An interesting element of the pre-final discussion with Mitchell, was a focus entirely away from this Saturday’s showpiece event. The 27-year-old was asked about his thoughts on Antoine Dupont, after the French maestro led Toulouse to their record sixth Champions Cup title. Dupont has since claimed the HSBC SVNS title with France, as Les Bleus Sept continue their preparations for a gold medal campaign at the 2024 Paris Olympics.

“I think his game is always amazing. Even in that game, I watched his highlights from it (Champions Cup Final) it was world class, wasn’t it? I think the thing is, he still made a couple of mistakes, but the way he got back and made that cover tackle, I think it shows that you can make mistakes and still play amazingly well.

Antoine Dupont lifts the trophy as Toulouse are crowned Champions Cup champions after the European Champions Cup Final match between La Rochelle and Toulouse at Twickenham Stadium, London on May 22 2021. – PHOTO: Micah Crook/PPAUK

“Which gives you that confidence as a player, of that ilk and to do what he can do is is amazing. I mean his all out game in attack and in defence as well, I think he got what, three or four turnovers. I think the Saints of past, we were just focused on attack and trying to score tries, but I think now we’ve got to appreciate the all round game of defence, and keeping teams out actually wins you games wins you championships. So, I think that we understand that more, is going to be massive for us.”

“Is it a bit tough, it’s annoying when it’s your position, because everyone there looks at you and tries to compare and then you’re not as good. But he’s world class, it’s nice to have someone like that to try and get after and try and do the things that he’s doing. Which is amazing.
But he’s one of the world’s best. And if he carries on doing what he’s doing, he could be the best ever. So it’s class to actually watch someone like that in your position, and trying to be like that.”