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One in a million: Saints photographer hits 500 game milestone

Located somewhere around the perimeter of most rugby pitches where Northampton Saints have played rugby over the past 16 years, a red-hatted photographer will have been seen keeping her eye on the action.

Armed with £80’s worth of kit (comprising of a Canon 20D and a Sigma 75-300mm lens), Claire Jones photographed her first Saints game way back in September 2007 as the men in Black, Green and Gold commenced their National League One title-winning season with a victory over London Welsh.

In the time that has passed since that encounter, the equipment has been upgraded exponentially and Jones has taken more than a million photographs of the team in action.

Remarkably, Jones has missed just two games since January 2013 and on both occasions, it was extraordinary and unfortunate events prevented her from a clean sweep across the decade-long period.

“Last season I had all my gear stolen so I hadn’t got anything to shoot with!” Jones said. “We played in a semi-final at London Irish in the PRC and my car was smashed up.

“Then during Covid I missed a game in Belfast – not because I had Covid, I elected not to travel. The sequence of consecutive games is sadly gone now but it would’ve been well into the 300s.”

Perhaps unsurprisingly, it was during the 2014 Premiership final victory over Saracens that delivered her favourite moment operating pitch side.

“After the final whistle Alex Day, now of Bedford Blues, came to find me and said: ‘Mrs Waller wants a hug’,” she said. “Of course, it was Alex who scored the all-important try. So, the first thing I did after packing my kit up was to go and get a big hug from Sue!”

Covering a professional sports team up and down the country and across Europe has not been without its challenges – and the toughest of them all also came in the same calendar year that lives long in Saints fans’ memories.

“Newport Gwent Dragons in 2014 in a hailstorm was the most challenging match,” Jones recalled.

“There’s a brilliant photograph of prop Gareth Denman scoring a try in a puddle and he’s created his own wave! The hail was so bad that Sky lost its transmission. The players had to be taken off the pitch for a period, and it hurt on the side-lines.”

Recalling memories as quickly as her trigger finger presses the button to capture the all-important Saints moments, Jones has a clear favourite when it came to her favourite Saintsman to photograph through the years.

“Samu Monoa was my favourite, you could just guarantee that he would do something nuts!”

Claire Jones

Last weekend’s trip north to the Salford Community Stadium was Jones’ 499th match and while there was disappointment that Saints couldn’t kick off their 2023/24 Gallagher Premiership victory, she did manage to expertly capture Tommy Freeman’s acrobatic finish in the corner after just two minutes.

Today she will be hoping that Saints can deliver a result and more iconic moments for her to freeze in time on her milestone 500th Saints match.

“Saints are a very easy Club to work with,” Jones said, “The demands that the Club’s media team put on me are very low. We have a phrase that we’ve had for years and that’s ‘the usual old nonsense’. And they go ‘that will do!’.

“I am incredibly proud that I’ve got to this milestone and a lot of it is down to my husband, Tim. He’s done most of the games with me, sitting in the stands. Except through Covid when he got very frustrated!

“I love doing what I do, and I love that out of doing what I do, because I love taking photographs and I love rugby. I can raise loads of money for the Wheelchair Rugby team. So, it’s the perfect combination.” 

To mark the 500 milestone, Jones has selected five of her favourites Saints photographs – along with a sixth image to be added from the Bristol match. This six-picture package will be available to purchase for just £25. Money raised will go towards the running costs of Saints Wheelchair Rugby.

The images include Tom Wood’s iconic celebration after his try against Leicester Tigers in 2014, James Ramm’s outrageous offload against the same opponents last season, a never-before published image of the 2014 Premiership trophy lift, a celebration shot featuring Lewis Ludlam, and her favourite; a wonderful shot of a powerful Saints scrum against Perpignan in the 2011 Heineken Cup semi-final.

“The then scrum coach, Dorian West, said it was the greatest scrum he had ever seen,” Jones said. “I had a brand-new lens, and it wasn’t really something I was planning to do. Dylan Hartley once told me it's the only rugby photo he had up in his house. It’s just an unusual photo!”.

To see all the photographs, purchase the package and support Saints Wheelchair Rugby, visit www.redhatphoto.co.uk.

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