George Furbank was in the stands on the day Northampton Saints claimed their, to date, one and only Gallagher Premiership title – and the fullback is determined to help the current group make their own history.
Almost nine years on from that landmark day in Saints’ history, the same opposition, Saracens, will be standing in the way of their first final at Twickenham since Alex Waller’s try in the last minute of extra time decided the tensest of afternoons.
Saturday’s semi-final marks the fourth time since Dylan Hartley and co lifted the trophy that the men in Black, Green and Gold have qualified for the play-offs.
Saracens had their revenge at the Gardens in 2015, before Exeter Chiefs proved too strong in 2019, and missed chances proved to be costly at Leicester Tigers last year.
In the latter two of those last-four misses, Furbank had established himself in Saints’ senior setup, having been inspired in the first place by Jim Mallinder’s heroes of 2013/14, while he was making his way through the Academy.
On his memories of the final that season, Furbank said: “I was at Twickenham with my sister that day. We went down and watched that and it was a pretty cool experience, being a Saints fan.
“I was in the Junior Academy at the time – in 2014 I must have been about 17 years old and the season after that was when I joined Saints’ Senior Academy.”
Along with his team-mates, Furbank is happy for Saints to play the role of underdogs at the StoneX Stadium against opponents who have led the way in the Premiership standings for much of the campaign.
They travel to north London with momentum on their side, however, having recorded bonus point wins – the first of which came against Sarries – in the last two games of their regular season to earn their semi-final spot.
Furbank insists there hasn’t been much talk among the squad of their 2013 triumph at the same venue, but he feels the pressure being off Saints, as it was then, may work in their favour.
He said: “I don’t think there is pressure on us, really. The only pressure is what we put on ourselves to go and deliver a performance.
“Obviously, the perceived pressure and the outside pressure is probably going to be more on them than us because they’re at home and they’ve not lost at home for a long time.
“They finished top of the table, we recognise what a good outfit they are, but if we go and put in a performance, and stop them putting in a performance, then I’m confident we can come away with a victory.”George Furbank
That has been the focus, rather than concerning themselves with not wanting to repeat the heartache they felt after their 27-14 loss at Leicester in June last year, where Saints could not make the most of a dominant first-half performance.
It is worth remembering, though, that the 2013/14 title winners had to go through more than their fair share of disappointments in the years before finally landing the big one.
Furbank said: “We’ve not spoken about it [Leicester] too much to be honest, although obviously that was a game where we were performing well towards the end of the season, and we performed well in that game and should have come away with the win.
“We know Sarries are favourites going into this game, but we’re focusing on ourselves and we believe that if we put in the performance, we can get a victory.”
Saints came agonisingly close to claiming victory on their last visit to Saracens at the beginning of November, when their hosts dramatically came from 39-17 down to win 45-39.
Ill-discipline proved to be the downfall of Phil Dowson’s side that day, but for an hour they were the better team, with the speed and precision of their attacking play putting Sarries firmly on the backfoot.
Furbank said: “That gives us confidence that when we’re performing, we can put our game on them and cause them trouble.
“We’ve got to go and deliver, we know what their defence is like on the whole and we’ve got to deliver a top-level attacking performance and our D has got to be a bit less leaky than it was in that last game.
“If we get a lead, we want to be able to grind those sort of things out. We’ve experienced that [disappointment] quite a few times and we’ll learn from that as well.
“Those boys are all electric and my job is pretty easy – I’m not as athletic as they are, so my job is to create as much space for them as possible and then they can go and do their thing.
“It’s an exciting back three to be a part of and one I’m really enjoying.”