Northampton Saints’ 45-39 victory over the Barbarians on Saturday was a chance for the club’s supporters to say ‘goodbye’ to two club legends who were lining up for the opposition.
Former Saints skipper Tom Wood captained the BaaBaas as he came out of retirement, after a shoulder injury deprived him of the chance to bid farewell on the pitch last season when his 12-year stint at cinch Stadium at Franklin’s Gardens came to an end.
It was also a final match on English soil for centre Luther Burrell, who spent seven seasons with Saints between 2012 and 2019, and is about to embark on a spell in Japan that will likely bring the curtain down on his career.
The 34-year-old went certainly went out with a bang, as he crossed for one of the Barbarians’ seven tries during an entertaining afternoon, drawing arguably the biggest cheer of the day from the crowd in the process.
Burrell said: “I was just hanging out on the touchline and the fitness guys for Northampton were telling me ‘Luther, stop being lazy, get off the wing.’
“I just said ‘lads, I know what I’m doing out here’ then a couple of minutes later, we go down the wing and I score!
“You can’t teach an old dog new tricks, right?”
For Wood, it was the first time he had taken to the pitch since he played for the Barbarians against Spain back in June, for what everyone thought at the time was his retirement match.
The fact he has stayed active in the five months since thanks to his new day job as a joiner and tree surgeon possibly explains why the 36-year-old back rower was able to last the pace for longer than even he expected.
Wood said: “I felt surprisingly alright straight after the game, I don’t know if it was the adrenaline!
“It was an amazing occasion, I loved every minute of it and I just wanted to squeeze every last drop out of it.”Tom Wood
“I’m sure it will catch up with me shortly – maybe in the next few days I’ll be on ice – but for now I’m feeling in one piece.”
Wood was given a standing ovation by the Gardens faithful when he was substituted off in the closing minute, although typically he wanted to be part of the action right until the final whistle.
“I was somewhat annoyed they were subbing me off – I thought the game was still on the line and I wanted to play,” Wood said.
“There was a little bit of confusion but then it dawned on me what was happening, and it was great to be able to take that applause and sign off in that kind of style.
“As much as last season was an awesome send-off, it’s a bit more special when you’re on the pitch and you can bow out as you came in.”
Burrell also appreciated the love shown to him by the supporters who cheered him for so long, while also revelling in the chance to represent the Barbarians in what was their first match against Saints in their 132-year history.
Among their squad were players who suddenly found themselves without a club after the financial crises at Worcester Warriors and Wasps earlier this season.
“We’ve all bought into this week,” Burrell said. “We’ve had fun along the way, we’ve done very little training and ultimately we just said ‘these are our last minutes in this jersey’.
“Some lads may not play again, some lads are going on to other clubs and that’s what the past two weeks have done.
“A handful of lads from the past two weeks have picked up clubs, and how good is that?
“It doesn’t get much better than that and, as a Barbarian, to be able to share that with them, put them on the stage, support them, let them show their skills, I’m so honoured.”