I think the time has come to talk about the next win for Northampton Saints.
Sometimes non-rugby friends ask about games afterwards if they haven’t heard the result.
“What’s up Steve?” they might say.
“Been watching the Saints…” I reply with a world weary glance heavenward.
“Oh, how did they get on?” is the tentative response.
The first couple of occasions I went into some detail about the cruel twists of fate and agonising reversals, but after a while these match reports for the casual enthusiasts reduced to something like: “They lost. A thing happened.”
It is part of the nature of rugby that you can play well and suffer for it. The dizzying mazy run of a winger or fullback can end up with you losing possession if they are brought to earth alone.
It is also part of the nature of rugby that exceptional efforts can go unrewarded: five brilliant earth shattering tackles are always negated by the sixth missed tackle.
Top drawer etiquette for rugby fans therefore is not to criticise your team as readily as football fans might. The game is a cruel mistress. She makes you wait for your rewards and beats up your team while she is doing it.
But being able to shoulder your adversity, get back up and get on with it is part of the culture of the game, fans as well as players.
It’s been over a year, however, since there was a win.
Head of the coaching staff Chris Boyd said in the wake of the latest defeat “We are finding new ways to lose games.”
(We were winning all the way through against Bordeaux until the ball bounced off the post and one of their players did a thing).
The next opponents are the mighty Leinster. It’s going to be a tough one to win, but it wouldn’t be any less tough if we had won every game this year. For fans in emotional turmoil, could this fixture offer a glimmer of hope?
Perhaps controversially I’m not going to comment on the technical aspects of playing rugby here. At different stages of different games we have scored tries, kicked points, won turnovers, lineouts and scrums. I’m convinced they know how to do it. It’s their job.
Literally yes, this selection of good players will need to play good to some degree but in terms of the fan experience (and I know this from having supported a number of losing teams across a wide variety of sports) we also have a development curve we can move through.
Instead of fretting about the skills matrices of the playing staff, fans can assess where we are by looking at this simple scale of Fan Joy: are we losing games we deserve to lose? Losing games we deserve to win? Winning games we deserve to win or – the ultimate joy – winning games we deserve to lose? That’s the fan emotional development curve – a simple four section barometer. We are where we are.
It should be noted that the Fan Joy Barometer does not take us on a straightforward march away from mistakes, mismatches and missed opportunities because the apex experience is the unexpected, undeserved win against all odds.
In fact Saints’ forthcoming victory (not saying when, spoilers) will certainly have mistakes by Saints’ players happening in it. And since a winless season is an incredibly rare event for any team we can assume that Saints’ next winning team will be more or less the team we have been watching: international heroes and local heroes, a particular Northampton mix of spices.
The only real difference to what’s going on at the moment will be that we score more points than the opposition.
In many ways we should savour this moment of anticipation. When we get our unexpected win, it might be a long time before a win is quite as unexpected again.