Stranger things have happened – that was Alex Waller’s take on Saints’ chances of winning at Welford Road in the run up to the East Midlands derby.
It was a measure of Northampton’s troubles that such a nonchalant comment represented – at the time – twinkly eyed optimism.
The Saints came into training for the match reflecting on a second-half skinning from Saracens and knowing that yet another reaction was going to be needed to stop a Leicester side on a five game winning run.
There was no Dylan Hartley, no Courtney Lawes, no Harry Mallinder, no Christian Day, no Tom Wood – not that any particular line-up has been immune from problems.
In addition doing the double over Tigers – home and away league wins – had not been achieved for 14 years. Stephen Myler was the only Saints player on the pitch with experience of beating Leicester at Welford Road.
And Myler, undoubtedly a club legend who is heading for the door, partly owns the unlikely victory that emerged.
After the disappointment of last week, Northampton needed to respond…
They did so in style, with 27-21 win away to Leicester 👏
Tries from Cobus Reinach and Ahsee Tuala among the highlights of another cracking game of Premiership rugby 🙌 pic.twitter.com/JPQbHrPWBg
— Rugby on BT Sport (@btsportrugby) April 14, 2018
The Iceman never looked fazed by the task at hand and skewered penalties in a way that George Ford just didn’t for the Tigers.
Jamie Gibson won man of the match, getting special attention from his former Leicester clubmates throughout the game, but the back three of Gibson, Eadie and Harrison felt like three pieces of a stubborn puzzle finally fitting together.
The whole pack at times got a taste of what old style Saints forward dominance was like, destroying the Tigers scrum twice and winning the aerial battle at the lineout by a comfortable margin.
Paul Hill also found a chance to launch his own charge of the heavy brigade which opened the door for the light brigade in the shape of Ben Foden to finish with some class.
Cobus Reinach deserves a mention in dispatches too. He had a kick that wasn’t on slapped down and a try was conceded, but he followed it by swerving past two hapless Tigers defenders for a score of his own. Saints fans rarely praise scrum-halves but they do like a cheeky one and in a season when Northampton have been swimming against the tide Reinach has made his mercurial mark.
This season being this season however there had to be a moment of tragic farce and that came for Rob Horne who was captaining the side for the first time but got stretchered after 13 seconds. He was hunting down the opening kick and went into the collision with his head in the wrong place.
The cruel consequence was a trip to hospital while the game which he had prepared so well for – Foden praised Horne’s inspirational influence in training – unfolded without him.
Fans would have told you that a final score of 21-27 to Saints was a pipe dream before the game just because of the way this season has been. Tigers will not consider this their finest performance to be fair, but the way 17/18 has been going not many Saints fans would have said “they’ll need to be at their best to beat us” before the match.
But then again, stranger things have happened.
Waller was on the bench but returned to first team action in the last quarter – a yellow card for cumulative infringements biting a ten minute chunk out of his recall.
It was his first spell back on the front line in 16 weeks following a shoulder injury.
“The physios and Matt Lee and the S and C staff with Chris Kemp have done a fantastic job. They are probably sick of me, well I know they are sick of me, but I have had some of the best treatment and the best training available. I have been flogged for the last 16 weeks so I am actually glad to be back on the pitch, it might be easier than some of the stuff I have been doing,” he said, reflecting on his season for NQ.
He has had to watch from the sidelines as some seismic changes took place.
“It definitely has changed. I have been here throughout it all. I had four days off and back in for rehab after surgery. I have been here with all the boys but just behind the scenes slogging away. It has been a difficult period for us. It is one for rebuilding, I think it’s been difficult losing coaches, seeing who’s coming in, the insecurity of it but I think going forward it’s really positive looking forward with next season coming along.
“There are no better fans than the Franklin’s Gardens faithful and we really appreciate that through these tough times. I know it is tough for them as well but trust me it is real tough for us and we are working hard every day to try and get better. We don’t go out there to lose. I think overall looking into next year with Chris BoyD and Vesty coming in and some of the new signings – bit of a freshen up – the outlook is positive and I am really optimistic for the future.”
Doing the double over Tigers has been an unexpected bonus for Saints in what was turning into an annus horriblis.
There were rumours of pub golf in the Welly Road to celebrate but perhaps even better is the thought that some decent people who won’t be around at Saints next season can feel satisfied that they have achieved something fans will still be talking about in years to come.