Bringing You the Daily Dispatch

Northampton and Bath prove they are the teams of today and tomorrow
Rugby union Sport

Northampton and Bath prove they are the teams of today and tomorrow

As the Northampton team bus pulled away from Twickenham on Saturday night, celebrations in full swing, ski goggles adorning heads of the already well-oiled Premiership champions, one of their former players could be spotted making his way across the car park. Rob Horne, the former Australia international, had flown thousands of miles to watch his old side end their 10-year wait for a Premiership title in desperately tense fashion.

It was a poignant moment to see Horne at Twickenham because it was there that Northampton played a match in his honour against Leicester in October 2018. It was six months after he had sustained a career-ending injury, against the same opponents, at the age of 28. Horne was captaining Northampton for the first time that April afternoon but an early collision resulted in severed nerves and the permanent paralysis of his right arm.

That he made the journey on Saturday, 24 hours after dropping in on the squad, was not lost on Northampton amid the celebrations. “For the boys who played with him it was a really nice surprise,” said Alex Waller, who scored the winning try in Northampton’s Premiership victory in 2014 and who now retires with a second winner’s medal.

It was also a reminder of all that Saints have been through since that previous title, their stagnation after winning the final under Jim Mallinder and the years of underachieving until the New Zealander Chris Boyd arrived in 2018 and began an overhaul of the club and the academy, unearthing players such as George Furbank and Alex Mitchell, which culminated in Saturday’s triumph. Boyd handed the reins to Phil Dowson and Sam Vesty in 2022 and returned to New Zealand to enjoy retirement, but he, too, was at Twickenham on Saturday. “For those lads to travel halfway around the world just because they’re connected speaks volumes about what the club means to them,” said Waller.

There was something contradictory about Northampton’s 25-21 victory in that they scarcely deserved it, such was Bath’s resilience having lost Beno Obano to a red card in the 22nd minute. Yet they are worthy winners for the manner in which they have illuminated the Premiership season. Nonetheless, countless Bath players emerge with immense credit – Sam Underhill turned in a defensive performance for the ages and said: Sometimes you can lose a bit easier knowing that you took the chances in front of you and that you don’t have any regrets.”

Northampton became the fifth different winners of the title in the past five years and the challenge is to ensure they are not waiting another decade for their next. Dowson must cope with the departure of Courtney Lawes and build a dynasty, and it is hard to escape the feeling Bath are likely to provide the biggest obstacle to that. It is not long ago that Saracens and Exeter were the dominant forces in England, but Northampton and Bath are the teams of today and tomorrow. “[Bath] are a bit like us, they’ve got a young group, ambitious, a really stable coaching group,” said Dowson. “I can’t imagine they’ll be far away next year.”

It is hard to escape the feeling that Bath are likely to provide the biggest obstacle to another Premiership win next season.View image in fullscreen

Certainly, that will be reflected when Steve Borthwick names his England squad for the summer tour of Japan and New Zealand on Monday. The Northampton contingent could hit double figures, which is a testament to the changing of the guard in a squad dominated recently by Saracens. It also means there will be plenty of bleary eyes when the squad convenes.

“There are so many amazing players in this team we definitely deserve to have a good number of us in that squad,” said the fly-half Fin Smith, who will be hopeful of a first England start against Japan or New Zealand after George Ford was ruled out of the tour through injury. “We are going to celebrate and then I will try and slap myself in the face a few times and try to wake up to meet up with the boys in camp on Monday. I have spoken to [Richard Wigglesworth] and he said, ‘We are expecting you to be not in your best state’.”

skip past newsletter promotion

Smith did not have his best game on Saturday and though he has struggled to impose himself in most of their knockout matches this season, it feels an unduly harsh point on which to dwell given he is still just 22. He is also his own worst critic and a first England start this summer would be just reward for a remarkable season. In many ways he also sums up the renewed sense of optimism that surrounds the Premiership, 12 months afters London Irish became the third club to go to the wall, given that Smith was employed by Worcester before joining Saints after the Warriors went bust.

“I gave myself a bit of a talking to at the end of last season and said: ‘If you want to be this guy that is remembered for what you want to be remembered for, and do all the things you want to do you are going to have to start working really hard,’” Smith said. “And I have tried to do that. It was a good way to finish it off.”

Source: theguardian.com