Chris Boyd: Northampton Saints boss on how to close gap to Exeter Chiefs & Saracens
"Suppressing the physical domination" of Exeter and Saracens is key to ending their stranglehold on the Premiership, says Northampton's Chris Boyd.
Chiefs and Sarries will contest the Premiership final for the third time in four seasons at Twickenham on 1 June.
Northampton, who finished 30 points behind leaders Exeter, lost 42-12 to the Chiefs in Saturday's semi-final.
"There is a significant gap to Exeter and Saracens, but it's not always there," said Saints' director of rugby.
"We finished fourth and we won 11 and lost 11. We had a 50% record, and there were a chunk of teams in the middle that were about the same. Even Exeter, who finished top, lost five games.
"Gloucester beat Exeter in a fairly critical European game, so they're not unbeatable, but you've got to work out how you suppress both of those sides' physical domination.
"Their games are around territory and physical domination more than possession, although Exeter hang onto the ball a lot and grind you down."
Boyd continued: "It's important that the clubs that play with a bit more optimism find a way to get closer to Exeter and Saracens.
"You can play the power game domestically - and Saracens have got to a point where the power game has been rewarding for them in Europe - but there are only one or two teams can play that style and be successful.
"Once you get that neutralised, you've got to find another way to play."
Exeter finished eight points clear of second-placed Saracens in the final table, with Gloucester a further 10 points behind in third and then a 12-point gap to the next three clubs - Northampton, Harlequins and Bath.
Boyd happy with Northampton progress
New Zealander Boyd's first season in charge of Northampton ended one step short of a Twickenham final, but the 60-year-old was able to reflect on a "vast improvement" from the team this term after a ninth-placed finish in 2017-18.
Saints also won the Premiership Rugby Cup in March.
"I was unsure what success would look like so we didn't quantify it greatly," said Boyd.
"In speaking to our board, CEO and senior players, we needed to get back into the top tier in Europe and so getting into the top six was going to be a pass mark.
"To get into the top four would be a very good year, and if we could find our way to get to Twickenham that would be an excellent year.
"It's a 'B' grade - it's not a great season, but it's certainly vastly improved. The trick for us is to build on what we've achieved this year and keep going north. That's the hope."