European Glory

Heineken Cup glory in 2000
Heineken Cup glory in 2000
Saints and Lions coach Ian McGeechan
Saints and Lions coach Ian McGeechan
Allan Bateman
Allan Bateman
Pat Lam and Tom Rodber after lifting the trophy
Pat Lam and Tom Rodber after lifting the trophy
Captain Pat Lam and D of R John Steele
Captain Pat Lam and D of R John Steele
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For all the promise of the early-1990s, and the arrival of Scotland's Grand Slam-winning coach Ian McGeechan as director of rugby, the Saints slid into Division Two in 1995.

Some would say it was unlucky - the side having been denied two tries by the referee in a one-point defeat at Gloucester that would have kept the club in the top flight - but the damage was done by an opening two months that saw the Saints win just once in eight games before McGeechan's arrival.

However relegation did not prove to be an end, but a new beginning. The existing players committed themselves to the cause and new stars such as centres Gregor Townsend and Jonny Bell joined to help the Saints use what became the Demolition Tour of Division Two a springboard to greater things. The Saints swept the league with 18 wins from their 18 games with the campaign becoming a shop window for the likes of Townsend, Bell, Michael Dods, Paul Grayson and Matt Dawson to show off their international credentials.

Off the field there was plenty of change, too. This time the upheaval was instigated throughout rugby by the International Rugby Board's announcement on the eve of the 1995 Rugby World Cup that the sport was to go fully professional. The club needed backing, and it came from Keith Barwell, a local entrepreneur who had made his fortune from the newspaper industry. A life-long Saints fan, 'Uncle Keith', as the Saints supporters lovingly know their chairman, stepped in to bankroll the club, thereby ensuring that the Saints were not left behind by the new rugby revolution.

More top players joined the Saints, notably Pat Lam, who as captain became one of the fulcrums of the team and a hero to the fans. Allan Bateman, a centre who had starred on the 1997 British and Irish Lions tour to South Africa, joined his team mates Dawson, Grayson, Rodber and Nick Beal at Franklin's Gardens in 1999. And Argentine duo Freddie Mendez and Martin Scelzo were coupled together in the front row with Springbok World Cup winner Garry Pagel to make a formidable unit feared throughout the country.

And although McGeechan left in the summer of 1999 to return to Scotland as national coach, John Steele returned to Franklin's Gardens to lead the team through their first ever Heineken Cup campaign all the way to the final. The Saints had faltered domestically in the final few weeks of the season, but as they had showed in a memorable semi-final win over Llanelli, they were men on a mission.

In front of a then-record Heineken Cup crowd at Twickenham, the Saints ripped into Munster from the first whistle, and while the Irishmen scored the only try of the contest, the men from Northampton held their nerve - Grayson in particular with his three penalties - and lifted the trophy (pictured above) to round off the greatest day in the club's history.