Northampton Saints’ Cumbrian forwards coach Phil Dowson has urged his side to start fast when they visit Saracens for their Gallagher Premiership season opener.

The Black, Green and Golds have been handed the toughest opening fixture possible as they will head to Allianz Park to face the champions on October 19.

Saints enter the 2019/20 season after an impressive campaign, in which, they clinched a top-four finish for the first time since 2015 on the final day in their first campaign under Chris Boyd. That came after they eventually built-up some momentum after stuttering in the early stages of Boyd’s tenure.

“There was a period of time where we didn’t quite get our game together,” admitted Dowson who grew up at Caldbeck.

“We had new coaching staff, new coaches, a new game plan and towards the end of the season, we started to get some rhythm. We were fortunate enough to get in [the top four] ahead of Wasps and Quins, so basically, it was a period of time where things fell into place.

“We’ve got to make sure we don’t have a bedding in period this time, we kick on and make sure we hit the ground running against the reigning champions.”

The England international, once of Wigton Rugby Club and who attended Sedbergh School, added to The Northampton Chronicle and Echo: “We want to make sure we start the season better than we did last year.

"We want to continue to improve and, if we do that, we give ourselves an opportunity to progress in the Premiership and in Europe.

“How we do that is by looking after details day to day and doing the boring things really well.”

After Bristol Bears host Bath Rugby on Friday, October 18, the other opening Gallagher Premiership fixtures see Exeter Chiefs welcome Harlequins, Sale Sharks host Gloucester Rugby - when Carlisle-born Chris Harris could make his league debut for Gloucester after his summer switch from Falcons - and Leicester Tigers travel to Worcester Warriors.

Then, a day later, Wasps face London Irish.

Dowson, 37, began his career at Newcastle and enjoyed an eight-year spell with Falcons before he joined Northampton as a player in 2009.

He then left Saints for Worcester but returned to Northampton as a coach in 2017.

In 2012, he was given his England debut by fellow Cumbrian Stuart Lancaster in their 13-6 success at Murrayfield, going on to earn 12 caps for his country.

Dowson also captained England against the Barbarians in a non-capped game in 2012 and represented them at the 2005 Sevens World Cup in Hong Kong.