AMONG the key selection changes made this past week have been skipper Jon Wilkin’s reversion to the second row and the return of Luke Thompson to the number 13 role.
Wilkin has rolled his sleeves up and given Saints some quality, direct running on that right edge to give balance to side where the left has been most potent.
Thompson’s return from a broken thumb injury has beefed up Saints’ middle unit and he produced two strong games over Easter, as did Morgan Knowles who played a bit of back row as well as jumping in as interchange nine.
Interim coach Derek Traynor explained the thinking behind the changes and assessed some of the younger players’ development.
He said: “Wilko was a top class Great Britain international back row forward.
“He had helped the club jumping in at half back and being a controlling type player, but now we have got Matty Smith to do that, so it releases Jon to go back to what he was a star at.
“With Zeb Taia on the other side it is a really good balance at the moment.
“On the left there is plenty there; pace, deception and skill. If you are playing against that you would see what we can throw at them there as a threat.
“Taia is a really experienced player. A top quality, experienced, smart footballer who can mix it up too.
“He does the hard carries, too, and bangs his shoulder in in defence, but he has a lovely little offload or deft pass into space.
“Percy does run good lines and hits space as well so it is a good pairing out there.”
Looking at Thompson, Traynor added: “Luke is a big, strong, hard ball-carrying forward and if you are not willing to put your body in front of him then you are not going to stop him.
“He makes people work and he is a great asset to the team.
“I also thought Luke Douglas’ work-rate outstanding on Monday –and when we subbed him he came off like a spring chicken.
“He has got a big engine and you can see him settling with each game, mixing well with the lads and some of the lads are beginning to look up to him for his experience and the way he is.
“He is a very good technical forward, he is experienced, finds his front and a way of getting them on their backs and it looks like he is going to be a good signing for us.
“We have three middles now, with a 13 like Tommo who carries like a prop or Morgan Knowles who plays a bit more like a ball player.
Sometimes you might start with your big ball carrier and then bring Morgan on.
“It is a bit about who the game is against really.
“We see Louie McCarthy-Scarsbrook more like a middle type player, but capable of playing back row if you get an injury and filling in at centre if we get injuries. You need players like that in your squad to cover injuries. Him Dom Peyroux are similar in that mould.”
Although Regan Grace has grabbed a lot of headlines with his two-tries, and breath-taking displays in his first two senior outing, another young Welsh international has also had a very impressive Easter to consolidate on his fine first breakthrough season.
Traynor said: “Morgan Knowles is probably one of the most dedicated kids we have ever had come through.
“His family brought him down from Cumbria from the age of 13 in the scholarship and he never missed a session.
“He and Ricky Bailey were always the last ones to leave training because they were doing extras, even though they had to get up to Barrow and down to Telford “He is getting the rewards he deserves now and hopefully he will go on now and be that 10-year Saints player.
“Again Ricky Bailey is another kid who has performed well in the reserves and who gives you everything and does his job well.
“Positional wise and his role as an organising full back, he has come on tremendously.
“He is knocking on the door.”
Traynor gave an update on versatile second rower and centre Jack Ashworth, who is still a few weeks away with injury.
“We will get Jack back in the reserves and get him playing and then hopefully he will start pushing a few people in the positions he plays,” he said.