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Classic Match: Saints conquer Europe at Twickenham

With live rugby still off the books, we bring you another Classic Match from the Saints archives. Today marks 20 years since one of the Club’s finest hours, when the men in Black, Green and Gold lifted the Heineken Cup at Twickenham.

Northampton produced a performance of grit and courage to raise the Heineken Cup in front of 70,000 supporters at Twickenham – the Club’s first major trophy in the professional era.

The scenes at the end will go down in rugby folklore, with supporters and replacements from both sides piling on to the pitch as the teams stood defiantly in separate circles in the middle.

The new European Champions linked arms and cavorted in boundless joy while bridesmaids Munster bowed their heads in silent contemplation following an epic final that will live long in the memory.

Seconds earlier, Budge Pountney had made a solitary pilgrimage to shake the hands of each Munster player while his colleagues celebrated wildly. Pountney’s gesture was typical of the occasion; the match might not have been out of the top drawer, but the sportsmanship and commitment were exemplary.

Munster scored the only try of the match – but in a tale of two boots, Northampton secured a historic victory thanks to the ever-prolific Paul Grayson.

He scored three penalty goals, while his counterpart, the young Ronan O’Gara, missed four kicks out of four, including one just a minute from time.

After his side’s win, Saints’ Director of Rugby, John Steele, said: “We were very positive all week. This has been a big season for the players and to have come this close and not won a trophy would have been a major disappointment.

“I felt we deserved our victory. People perceived that we would play like a tired side and maybe it took Munster aback that we weren’t the war-weary team many people thought.”

John Steele, Director of Rugby

The supremacy of Northampton’s pack was evident from the start, and when Munster gave away a penalty in front of the posts, Grayson gave Saints the lead within two minutes. The Irish side struggled to get any of the ball in the opening ten minutes, and they were lucky to keep the deficit to just three points.

A handling error from winger Ben Cohen denied Northampton a try yards from the line, and sensing their luck, Munster picked up the pace and put together a kick and chase – allowing Jason Holland to level the scores with a drop goal.

Having started slugglishly, Munster began to play with more sharpness, and the Irish contingent were sent into raptures

Keith Wood had stormed down the right-hand side before the ball was whipped left across the face of the Northampton posts. Two intelligent miss-passes by O’Gara to Holland and by Dominic Crotty to David Wallace allowed the flanker to run round and through Allan Bateman’s despairing tackle.

O’Gara found the conversion too testing and Munster had to be satisfied with a five-point lead, before Northampton – who have played outstanding rugby all season – cut the gap before the interval with Grayson slotting an easy penalty.

Grayson kicks for goal

Wood made Munster’s intentions clear from the re-start, taking a brilliant catch and following it with a stunning 40-yard run. But before the Irish were able to capitalise, Saints’ scrum-half Dom Malone intercepted and took the ball upfield.

The initiative finally swung Northampton’s way, when Grayson – playing out of position at fullback – scored his third penalty to put Saints into a one-point lead.

Munster squandered a rare opportunity to go back into the lead when they opted to put the ball into touch instead of kicking a penalty. Having won the line-out however, the forwards were unable to make any headway against the immovable Northampton pack.

Minutes later, another chance went begging when O’Gara missed again and Munster suffered a further blow when captain Mick Galwey was sin-binned for failing to allow Saints to take a quick penalty.

With just seven minutes to go, Grayson surprised everyone by missing from the tee, but he had done enough to secure the victory Northampton’s performances this season so richly deserved.

Pat Lam celebrates

Saints captain Lam was a man inspired, charging through tackle after tackle, but Northampton were equally well served by Pountney and Don Mackinnon on the day.

Equally impressive was Tim Rodber; his work at the line-out was crucial and it was his stealing of two Munster throws midway through the second half which enabled Northampton to lift a Munster siege.

Behind the scrum Cohen and Bateman were the pick of the Northampton backs. Cohen was always industrious, always thrusting at the heart of Munster tacklers and Bateman was the organising genius behind Northampton’s defence.

Munster were shattered at the end. They had the satisfaction of scoring the only try but they were unable to match the might of the Northampton pack. From the first scrum the Northampton front row had their opposite numbers in trouble and Munster’s front five were completely eclipsed.