15 for 10: Northampton Saints - an all-decade XV
The latest RugbyPass 15 for 10 takes us to the East Midlands and current Gallagher Premiership high-fliers Northampton Saints, whose exploits over the past decade include a domestic title and a highly memorable Heineken Champions Cup final with Leinster.
The club’s European competitiveness and position atop English rugby has diminished as the years have moved on, however, and they have made way for the duopoly of Saracens and Exeter Chiefs at the summit of the Premiership.
That said, the club are roaring back to life under director of rugby Chris Boyd and between their productive academy and some savvy recruitment from abroad, Saints are beginning to establish themselves as a force once again despite their recent European humblings at the hands of Leinster. Check out their all-decade XV below:
- Ben Foden
Plenty of honourable mentions here including Ahsee Tuala, the injury-plagued Harry Mallinder and even the tail-end of Bruce Reihana’s career, although the story of the Northampton full-back jersey in the 2010s belongs to Foden. The former Sale Shark enjoyed the bulk of his career at Franklin’s Gardens and was a consistently creative force from the back, something which Northampton’s wings frequently feed off of.
- Chris Ashton
Paul Diggin, Jamie Elliott, Ken Pisi, Tom Collins. Again, there are no shortage of options here, though Ashton singled himself out as one of the most lethal wings in world rugby during his time at Saints. His final couple of years were so prolific as to draw major interest from Saracens, where he ultimately ended up after leaving in the summer of 2012.
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An archive visit by RugbyPass to Franklin’s Gardens
- George Pisi
Rory Hutchinson has come on strong of late and is someone who will have his eye on the XV of the 2020s, but for now the accolade has to go to Pisi. The Samoan centre made over 140 appearances for the club in a six-year spell and was viewed, particularly in the first half of that stint, as one of the most threatening attacking midfielders in the Premiership.
- Luther Burrell
Burrell formed a highly effective partnership with Pisi in Saints’ midfield and few defences could live with the combination of two such hard-hitting centres. James Downey was another name that was considered and who gave a lot to the club, but Burrell’s earlier years at Northampton were excellent and pushed him firmly into England contention.
- George North
There was a temptation to go with Taqele Naiyaravoro here, such has been his impact in just over one season, but North’s length of stay in the 2010s just edges it in his favour. The Welsh international made over 100 appearances and scored 32 tries during his time in the East Midlands and though many would argue he never quite hit his peak at the club, his service was still very impressive.
- Stephen Myler
A relatively straightforward call, with Myler having been the orchestrator for Saints for the majority of the decade. He was unlucky not to win more England caps as the international careers of Jonny Wilkinson, Charlie Hodgson and Toby Flood ran down before the arrival on the scene of Owen Farrell and George Ford. His positive legacy at Saints cannot be questioned, however.
- Lee Dickson
South African Cobus Reinach pushed Dickson all the way for this spot, whilst Kahn Fotuali’i also made his presence felt, but Dickson, like Myler, was at the core of that successful Saints side at the beginning of the decade. The pair combined harmoniously to control tempo, territory and opportunity, all of which allowed Northampton’s fearsome pack to go to work.
- Soane Tonga’uiha
The fact Tonga’uiha can keep out as dedicated a servant to Northampton as Alex Waller is a mark of his tremendous impact during his time at the club. Waller has his number in terms of durability, but Tonga’uiha was a force to be reckoned with at the set-piece and the tight five he played in earlier in the decade will surely go down as one of the premier units of the professional club era.
- Dylan Hartley
Mikey Haywood really wasn’t far off here with Hartley having split his time between club and country, but he was the leader for some of the Saints’ greatest moments of the decade. His discipline will always come under the microscope, but there was no doubting his commitment to the jersey and the passion with which he played for the club.
- Brian Mujati
A number of players have tried to fill Mujati’s boots such as Paul Hill, Kieran Brookes and, most recently, Owen Franks, but none have yet been able to replicate the impact he had. Alongside Tonga’uiha and Hartley, Mujati was the final piece in an uncompromising front row that took apart most, if not all, of the opponents they faced.
- Courtney Lawes
Perhaps the greatest success story of Saints this decade, Lawes has been a regular for Martin Johnson, Stuart Lancaster and Eddie Jones in their stints as England head coach. He has also consistently been one of the most predatory defensive players in Premiership and European rugby. Even at a club with as rich a history as Northampton, Lawes will go down as one of the side’s most iconic players when he does eventually hang up his boots.
- Christian Day
There is strong competition from David Ribbans and the long-serving James Craig, but Day was the perfect foil to Lawes in a dynamic and efficient second row pairing. Along with the aforementioned front row, Saints boasted one of the best tight fives the Premiership has ever seen and though Day didn’t receive the international recognition that his team-mates did, he was every bit as vital to the group’s success.
- Tom Wood
He may not have come through Northampton’s academy, but Wood’s service to the club has seen him integrate himself into part of the team’s DNA. His international legacy is wrapped up along with Chris Robshaw, James Haskell and the rather unfair ‘6/5’ debate, but that does nothing to diminish the years of ability, effort and leadership that he has brought to Saints.
- Teimana Harrison
Calum Clark had some disciplinary issues and was unlucky with injuries and Lewis Ludlam should dominate this position in the coming years, but Harrison has been one of the most impressive players for Saints over the past ten years. The club’s fortunes may have wavered in the second half of the decade, but Harrison’s positive impact on the team has only grown.
- Samu Manoa
There is no shortage of candidates here including Phil Dowson, Louis Picamoles and Roger Wilson, but no one quite replicated what Samu Manoa brought to Franklin’s Gardens. The American international enjoyed the best years of his career at the club and it’s a measure of his colossal ball-carrying ability that Northampton are still trying to find a replacement for him.
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