Last night Saints a dramatic season finale at Franklin’s Gardens saw Saints seal the last spot in next season’s European Champions Cup with a last minute one-point win over their guests Stade Français.
Trailing 9-22 at the break, Saints regrouped in the second half and spurred on by a raucous Franklin’s faithful, scored 14 unanswered points in the second forty despite being down to 13 men for ten minutes to claim the win.
“It’s been a great night,” Jim Mallinder commented to BBC Radio Northampton after the roaring Gardens had calmed post the final whistle.
“I thought the fans were absolutely fantastic and the noisiest I’ve heard them down here for a few years. Particularly in the second half when we went down to 14 and then 13, I thought the crowd were brilliant.”
Though 13 points adrift at the break, Saints had had the majority of possession in the first half but Stade’s clinical attack had cost them. Mallinder said that Saints knew they were not as far off the mark as the score suggested though and fought hard for that second half win.
“We thought we were definitely still in the game,” Mallinder commented.
“I think if you looked at the stats, we were making the most carries, we were making the most yards, we were the attacking team.
“But unfortunately every time we lost the ball they seemed to go and score. It wasn’t really a poor defensive effort, it was turnover ball and they were absolutely clinical and scored tries.
“At half time we talked about keeping the pace up, looking after the ball a little bit better and we thought that big French side would tire.
“Even against 13 men it certainly tired. For us to score that try at the end was very, very pleasing.
“You do think that you’re really struggling, when you’re six points behind and go down to 13 and they’re bringing their quality players off the bench.
“But we never give up and you could see that from the team, they never gave up. I think the way that we kept it tight and really took the game to them, deciding to go through them because we couldn’t go around them without the numbers, it was a tremendous effort to get that try.”
It was in the 78th minute that Harry Mallinder stepped up to convert Ahsee Tuala’s try and take Saints into the lead for the first time in the game. The 20-year-old kept a calm head and knock the conversion over despite the huge pressure.
“It was a big night for him,” Jim added about the fly-half, “He’s playing against their two international half-backs, real quality players, real quality all across the park so he’s learning.
“It’s unfortunate that we lost our two senior tens to injuries but he’s stepped into the team well and he led when it mattered.
“It’s a good win for us. It’s a good win. We’ve been battling hard, I do keep saying it but I do really think our rugby has improved towards the end of the season.
“We’ve had some great games to be honest, in Wasps and Leicester and Saracens. We lost these really close games which we should have probably won. But we’ve been training well, we’re slowly getting there but it’s tight.
“We’re against quality opposition week after week and you’ve got to be on top of your game.
“There’s certainly a lot of things that we haven’t done right this year but there are a lot of things that we have.
“I’ve just said to the boys in the changing room that to win with the Wanderers in the A League competition and to carry on and finish the season like we have done, it’s credit to them.”