Five reasons why...the Saints will win the final
May 23, 2013
Northampton celebrate their semi-final win over Saracens © PA Photos
On the eve of the Aviva Premiership final between East Midlands rivals Leicester Tigers and Northampton Saints, we debate which side will take the glory.
To kick things off, ESPNscrum's Tom Hamilton offers five reasons why he Northampton Saints will be celebrating glory come the full-time whistle.
'Why not us?'
It has been a constant mantra throughout their season. It has been a campaign of mixed fortune with impressive away wins against Ulster and Exeter Chiefs contrasted with two defeats to their rivals Leicester and Harlequins. But there has been a consistent belief within the side that they are on the cusp of, to borrow a rival's phrase, something special. Dylan Hartley and Ben Foden have been central to this 'Why not us?' mentality - and it was translated perfectly into on-field form during their semi-final win over Saracens.
"We knew we had it in us and as the sign says in the locker room, 'Why not us?'. That's a big part of it. We all play for each other and play as a team, as one," Samu Manoa told the Northamptonshire Telegraph after their final four triumph. "The unity was there and we told everybody just to do their job, play as a squad and come out with a win."
A good number of the side that will take to the field on Saturday for their final against Leicester would have run out in 2011 for the Heineken Cup finale at the Millennium Stadium. The Saints held a 22-6 lead at half-time and they already had one hand on the European title. But a Jonathan Sexton-inspired Leinster put the Saints to the sword in the second 40 and it was the Dubliners who came away with the 33-22 victory.
The Northampton players would have learnt from this and as Tom Wood said earlier this week, "It's no good being in a final and then folding". The Tigers have been warned...
The Franklin's Gardens humiliation
Saturday, March 30 - it was the Saints' nadir in this campaign. Chris Ashton's punch on Manu Tuilagi, the hair-pulling incident a season later and Rob Hawkins' horrendous injury have all tainted the East Midlands derby in the past few seasons, but at Franklin's Gardens on that spring afternoon, the Tigers completely demolished the Saints.
Leicester ran in four tries against the Saints in a performance packed with power and pace. Northampton were left to pick up the pieces, it was a defeat that bruised the core of the club. But just under three months hence and Jim Mallinder's team rallied, picked themselves up and have a chance for redemption in the final. There is no way the Saints can be that bad again, expect a better showing this time around.
Samu Manoa revels in their semi-final success%]
The giant American wrecking ball has been one of the stars of the season. Equally adept in the back-row and at lock, Manoa has never shirked a challenge and has led from the front for Northampton. He is one of the Premiership's most inspired pieces of business and if any one deserves a winner's medal for his endeavours this season, it is Manoa.
He was named Man of the Match in the semi-final, a decision that was no surprise to Mallinder. "To me, that's usual. He was outstanding, his defence in particular, and we quietly chuckled when we saw [Premiership] Player of the Year and Team of the Year, and he wasn't in the awards. To us, he has been an outstanding player who has played in the back row the last couple of weeks and played in the second row previously, and he has showed his versatility."
Points to prove
Various Saints players have experienced international rejection this year. Foden will hope to be given his chance for Test redemption against the Pumas this summer while Hartley is hopeful of making a dent in the Lions' series against the Wallabies. Their players have points to prove.
And the Saints are also bidding farewell to two of their favourite sons - front-row duo Soane Tonga'uiha and Brian Mujati. Two of the Premiership's best front-rowers, they will want to bow out on a high and what better way than in the final against Leicester.
© Getty Images
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Tom Hamilton is the Assistant Editor of ESPNscrum.