For all the promise of the early-1990s, and the arrival of Scotland's Grand Slam-winning coach Ian McGeechan as director of rugby, Saints slid into Division Two in 1995.
Some claimed it was unlucky, with the side denied two tries by the referee in a one-point defeat at Gloucester that would have kept the club in the top flight. However the damage was already done in an opening two months of the season which saw Saints win just once in eight games before McGeechan's arrival.
Relegation did not prove to be an end, but a new beginning. Existing players committed themselves to the cause, and new stars such as Gregor Townsend and Jonny Bell joined to help Saints on what became known as the ‘Demolition Tour of Division Two’. Northampton swept the league with 18 wins from their 18 games, with the campaign 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. The International Rugby Board's announced on the eve of the 1995 Rugby World Cup that the sport was to go fully professional, so the Club needed backing. That came from Keith Barwell; a local entrepreneur who had made his fortune from the newspaper industry. A life-long Saints fan, ‘Uncle Keith’ – as Saints supporters lovingly knew their chairman – stepped in to bankroll the Club and ensured Saints were not left behind by the new rugby revolution.
More top players joined up, notably Pat Lam, who as captain became one of the fulcrums of the team and a hero to the supporters. Allan Bateman, a centre who had starred on the 1997 British & Irish Lions tour to South Africa, joined fellow tourists 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. 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 men from Northampton held their nerve – Grayson in particular with three penalties – and lifted the trophy (pictured above) to round off the greatest day in the Club's history.