Rebuilding

The Special General Meeting in 1988
The Special General Meeting in 1988
D of R Barrie Corless and club secretary Geoff Allen
D of R Barrie Corless and club secretary Geoff Allen
Wayne 'Buck' Shelford
Wayne 'Buck' Shelford
Gary Pearce
Gary Pearce
Ian Hunter
Ian Hunter
Pause

Where the 1950s and 1960s had been years of copious success for the Saints, the 1980s were a decade in which the club became in serious danger of sliding out of England's elite.

Despite the efforts of players such as Gary Pearce, Vince Cannon and Frank Packman the Saints went from one poor season to another, a period that culminated in 1987/88 when the team finished bottom of Division Two.

A lack of relegation in that first season of league rugby both saved the Saints from sliding into ignominy and proved to be the catalyst for a revolution at the administrative level. With plenty of disquiet eminating from the changing room about how the club was being run, a group of former players and supporters - known as 'The Gang of Seven' - put together a proposal for the future running of the organisation. Following an extraordinary campaign in which both the new men and the established committee were given space in the Chronicle and Echo to outline their respective visions the proposals were put to the club's annual general meeting (pictured above).

The vote was overwhelming: 228 for the shake-up, just 76 against. It was certainly an emotional night that saw the old guard swept out of office and new men installed with a mandate to make the Saints great again.

They did not waste their time. In came Barrie Corless as a full-time director of rugby, the first man to hold such a position in England. Players quickly followed - the likes of fly half John Steele, full back Ian Hunter and back rower Tim Rodber - who joined Pearce, Packman, Harvey Thorneycroft and John Olver to form the nucleus of a team that reached its first ever Twickenham final in 1991, losing narrowly to a star-studded Harlequins outfit in extra time, and coming within a hair's breadth of winning the Division One title in 1992.

Martin Bayfield, a future England international and British and Irish Lion, also joined the Saints from Bedford in 1991, but the biggest capture of all had come two years previously when Wayne Shelford, a 1987 World Cup winner and legendary captain of the All Blacks, agreed to join the Saints.

He helped instil a sense of confidence on the field that was typified by the semi-final win over Orrell that sent the Saints to HQ. Beaten by the north-westerners 60-0 in the league in October 1990, by the time the cup tie came around in April the Saints were a completely different proposition, and they dug in to win 18-10 at a jubilant Franklin's Gardens.

Although there was disappointment in the final against Quins, and the following year when an outstanding midweek win at Leicester was undone by a defeat against Nottingham that would surely have made the Saints champions of England, one thing was certain. The Saints were back as a force to be reckoned with in English rugby.