The highs and lows of Saints' year
It's fair to say that 2018 has been another eventful year at Franklin's Gardens.
It started with Alan Gaffney and Alan Dickens in charge and ends with Chris Boyd placed firmly in the Saints hot-seat.Highs and lows have been bookended by brilliant back-to-back wins against Gloucester and Clermont Auvergne, and Worcester Warriors and Exeter Chiefs.And after the victory against the Chiefs, it seems like Saints are back on an upward curve.Here, we take a look at some of the key moments and men in black, green and gold during 2018...High point of the year: THAT win at Welford RoadSaints had waited 11 long years to beat Leicester Tigers in their own back yard. Few gave them any chance of ending that run when the black, green and gold rocked up at Welford Road in April. But what followed was an incredible away-day display, packed with character and ability. After sadly losing skipper Rob Horne to injury just 12 seconds in, Saints pulled together to provide one of the most memorable wins in the recent history of the club. They withstood plenty of late pressure to prevail 27-21, with the outpouring of relief at the final whistle showing just what it meant to men who had suffered such heartache at the hands of Leicester for so many years at Welford Road.Honourable mentions: The money raised for Rob Horne at Twickenham, the win against Clermont Auvergne in January, the win against Exeter Chiefs last Friday, getting home from TimisoaraLow point of the year: The retirement of Rob HorneThis was a moment that put rugby into perspective as news emerged that Rob Horne would be forced to retire after suffering full paralysis of his right arm. Horne had powered into an early collision from the kick-off against Leicester at Welford Road in April, but he was then down for some time before being taken to hospital. It was later revealed that he would not be able to play rugby again, cutting short a fantastic career and changing the player's life forever. Players and coaches paid tribute to a man who had offered so much to Saints in such a short stay at the club.Dishonourable mentions: The two huge defeats to Saracens, the Anglo-Welsh Cup semi-final defeat at Bath, Saints being stuck on a plane for six hours in Timisoara before the flight was postponed until the next dayMoment of the year: Rob Horne returning to England to deliver the match ball at TwickenhamWith Saints wanting to do something to truly pay tribute to Rob Horne's contribution to the club, the RFU offered them the chance to switch their derby-day fixture against Leicester in October to Twickenham. The club accepted and what followed was a huge coming together of the rugby community with more than 40,000 people attending the match and many more thousands of pounds being raised to help Horne adjust to his new life outside of rugby. It was a special occasion as Horne flew back to England to deliver the match ball. It was just unfortunate that Saints couldn't get the win they desperately wanted for him as Leicester claimed the spoils in the east midlands encounter.Honourable mentions: Ben Foden and Stephen Myler signing off in style against Worcester, Ehren Painter's match-winning cameo at Leicester in April, Rob Horne picking up both the supporters' and players' player of the year prizesTry of the year: Fraser Dingwall against WaspsWhat a way it was for Fraser Dingwall to score his first Saints try! It was made by some Taqele Naiyaravoro magic, with the big man bursting from inside his own 22, beating players for fun as he surged over halfway and handed the ball to Dingwall, who had made a superb support run. Dingwall then kept his composure, showing good speed to beat the Wasps cover and register in a game that really brought the buzz back to Franklin's Gardens as Saints showed the new-found attacking ability and freedom they have been given by their coaches.Honourable mentions: Ahsee Tuala in the win at Leicester in April, Piers Francis in the win against Exeter last Friday, Ben Foden in the victory against Clermont back in JanuaryPlayer of the year: Cobus ReinachThere have perhaps been players who have been more consistent over the past 12 months, but none have been as exciting as the South African scrum-half. He has been electric at times and provided some of the most eye-catching moments of the year, scoring in key wins against the likes of Leicester, Worcester and Exeter. Reinach appears to have everything a top scrum-half needs and his pace is frightening for opposition sides, who have struggled to live with him of late. He has the potential to be a huge player once again for Saints in 2019 as he is now starting to achieve more consistency in his performances and he just keeps getting better and better.Honourable mentions: Teimana Harrison, David Ribbans, Andrew KellawayYoung player of the year: Lewis LudlamHe might not grab the headlines like some of his fellow Academy graduates, namely Fraser Dingwall and Ollie Sleightholme, who have burst on to the scene with big tries, but Ludlam has emerged as a key figure in a key department of the Saints team. He is now established in the Saints No.7 shirt, seeing off competition from far more experienced players and his tenacity and determination is there for all to see. He has always been highly rated, and we are now seeing why as the 23-year-old continues to flourish in the Premiership pressure cooker as well as in Europe and the domestic cup competition.Honourable mentions: Fraser Dingwall, George Furbank, Ollie Sleightholme, Alex Moon, Ehren Painter, James Fish, James Grayson, Alex Mitchell (the list goes on and on...)Hopes for 2019Saints have come a long way in just a few months under new boss Chris Boyd, as showcased by the big wins under pressure during the past two weeks. Their confidence and composure is increasing all the time and if they can add more solidity at the scrum, they will be a force to be reckoned with going forward. Saints would dearly love to compete for a top-four spot come the end of the campaign and with everyone beating everyone in the Premiership so far this season, that is not out of the question. But the minimum requirement must purely be survival, with a top-six finish and return to the Champions Cup built on that. It is hoped, and expected, that big chances will continue to be given to young players who have truly shown their worth during recent weeks and months, and Boyd's fresh approach has been paying dividends. It would be so good for the club if they can continue to pull more fans back to Franklin's Gardens and create atmospheres like the one witnessed in the win against Exeter Chiefs last Friday. And, needless to say, the main hope is that there can be more memorable successes like the one against the Chiefs. Oh, and more derby-day wins, especially at Welford Road, wouldn't go amiss, either. Happy new year!