A New Dawn

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The Heineken Cup win proved to be the zenith of that particular Saints team. Bateman, Lam, Rodber and Pagel - four massive figures - all left in 2001 and proved to be big shoes to fill.

That said, under Steele's successor, former All Blacks coach Wayne Smith, the Saints came within touching distance of more silverware, making successive cup final appearances in 2002 and 2003 and reaching the Premiership play-off semi-finals in 2003 and 2004.

World Cup glory came the Saints' way too with the quartet of Grayson, Dawson, Steve Thompson and Ben Cohen all coming home from Australia in November 2003 with winners' medals around their neck and an open-top bus tour of Northampton. And the very fabric of the club was changing too, quite literally, thanks to a multi-million pound redevelopment of Franklin's Gardens that took capacity up to 13,500 and made the stadium the premium dedicated club rugby facility in Europe.

But as the decade wore on the promise of the Steele and Smith years melted away. Relegation was narrowly avoided in 2005, and although 2005/06 saw the arrival of All Black Carlos Spencer and Heineken Cup qualification once more it proved to be a false start. 2006/07 was notable for two things: the biggest quarter final win in Heineken Cup history away at Biarritz - and a subsequent semi-final in Coventry - quickly followed by relegation to National League One.

Again this proved to be a catalyst for change. In came Jim Mallinder as director of rugby, who brought with him Dorian West as forwards coach. The duo arrived fresh from Churchill Cup glory with the England Saxons, and they quickly went to work at club level.

Like their previous visit to the second tier, the Saints went through the entire season undefeated. This time however it was a mammoth 35-game campaign that included half-a-dozen visits to the far south-west, each a seven-hour coach journey. The EDF Energy National Trophy was won at Twickenham in front of nearly 20,000 Saints fans and the league trophy was lifted in front of a celebratory packed house at Franklin's Gardens.

Back in the Premiership the Saints used their excellent home record - just one defeat and one draw in 11 games - as the foundation for league consolidation. In the EDF Energy Cup the team reached the semi-finals, where they bowed out in a narrow defeat to eventual winners, Cardiff Blues. But it was in Europe where the Saints really came alive, winning all nine games in their European Challenge Cup to both win a major piece of silverware and guarantee a place back among Europe's elite.

The years since Mallinder's arrival have seen a consistent strengthening of the squad, and following the LV= Cup win in March 2010, the Saints have continued to go from strength to strength.

A second Heineken Cup title was cruelly taken away by Leinster in a classic final at the Millennium Stadium, and there was a second LV= Cup final in three years. Then in 2013 the Saints stunned the rugby world by winning away at Saracens to reach their first ever Aviva Premiership Rugby Final. Like the Cardiff showdown two years earlier, the clash against Leicester will live long in the memory for all of the 82,600 present at Twickenham and those watching at home.

On the international front a club record eight players represented four countries at the 2011 Rugby World Cup, and when Stephen Myler came off the bench to win his first England cap in Buenos Aires in the summer of 2013 the total of six Saints who saw action became another club record.

With British and Irish Lions such as George North and Alex Corbisiero joining the host of current internationals, excitement was the predominant emotion ahead of the 2013/14 season.

And this anticipation proved to be well placed, as the Saints went from strength to strength. Yes, there were one or two bumps along the road, but they were vastly outnumbered by the highlights - the Aviva Premiership semi-final against Leicester will live long in the memory of everyone who packed Franklin's Gardens that night, for example.

But it was all about silverware, and in eight memorable days the European Challenge Cup and then the Aviva Premiership trophies were lifted by the team, and celebrated wildly in the town, too, with over 30,000 supporters turning out for an open top bus parade which packed Northampton town centre.