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Hendy: I’ve always backed myself to try and beat that first guy

The glorious sight of George Hendy cantering down the right wing at Twickenham Stadium is one that will last long in the memory of Northampton Saints supporters for years to come.

It was the 21-year-old’s scintillating break that saw him evade a procession of tacklers before offloading to the supporting Alex Mitchell to cross for the 73rd-minute try that would wrestle back the lead from Bath that wouldn’t be relinquished.

For those of a Black, Green and Gold persuasion, seeing the red-haired back tormenting opponents has become a familiar sight this term – which started with three tries in as many games against Cambridge, Bristol Bears and Doncaster Knights in the Premiership Rugby Cup. 

He would go on to score in games of greater significance, bagging a world-class brace against Munster, crossing the line against Leinster at Croke Park, and striking in the league against Leicester Tigers and Bath.

Having arrived as a 45th-minute replacement for unfortunate injury victim Burger Odendaal in the Final, Hendy was fed a pass by George Furbank before his weaving run commenced that ultimately proved the difference between heartbreak and Saints becoming Gallagher Premiership champions for the first time in a decade. 

“As soon as I got the ball I guess I just wanted to try and get as far forward as I could,” said Hendy, who spent the majority of the 2022/23 season on loan at partner club Bedford Blues. “I ended up getting pretty far and thankfully Mitch was there to help me out.

“I’ve had strong words from Tom James about not giving him the ball. I think I owe him some drinks soon!”

George Hendy

“When you get in those situations so often in matches and in training as well, it becomes a habit. That is ultimately what you try and do, you try and make all those good things you see become habits as soon as possible, keep repeating them, so you do them without having to think.”

Hendy, whose contract extension was announced in February, ended the 2023/24 season with 21 appearances and eight tries to his name – figures that would likely have been even higher if a knee injury hadn’t contributed to missing the three months of action that ran into the Six Nations break. 

Television pundits named Hendy him their man-of-the-match for the Final and afterwards he explained how he has developed his game so those flashes of potential seen in season one as a Saint have become consistent themes in top-end games domestically, and in Europe.

“I’d say it probably comes quite naturally to me,” he said. “I’ve always backed myself to try and beat that first guy and then I have been working with the S&C coaches like Ben Rhodes, on the acceleration after that initial break.”

Saturday’s 25-21 triumph over Bath wasn’t the first time that the men in Black, Green and Gold claimed victory during a momentous campaign without racing lengths ahead at the finishing line. Saints’ journey to finishing top of the league included high-scoring wins against the likes of Leicester Tigers and Gloucester but also included seven victories in which the defeated side claimed a losing bonus point. 

Those fine-margin photo finishes and the ability to end up on the right side of them was a defining factor as to why silverware was secured this time around.

Hendy said: “I think throughout the season we had a lot of games that were close and we have come out on the right side of them. We have changed that from the last two seasons when we were battling for that fourth spot in the Prem. We were probably losing some of those close games whereas this season we have just found a way to win them. 

“In the Final, everyone was keeping pretty calm, which helped us get on the right side of the result.”

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