Northampton Saints 25 Bath 21: Tom Vickers' review and player ratings

Saints are the champions of England (photo by David Rogers/Getty Images)Saints are the champions of England (photo by David Rogers/Getty Images)
Saints are the champions of England (photo by David Rogers/Getty Images)
If good things happen to good people then you could say great things happen to great people.

And that has been shown by Saints this season as, from top to bottom of this special club, a special set of players, coaches and staff have enjoyed a campaign that will never be forgotten.

From Phil Dowson to Mark Darbon, from Courtney Lawes to Kev the kitman, you couldn't meet a more deserving set of rugby people.

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It wasn't so long ago that the club was being branded as too nice to lift trophies.

Now the nice guys have finished first rather than last.

This Saints group has written a new, incredible chapter in the club's history, dominating during the domestic campaign and then backing it up by bringing home the trophy from Twickenham.

On final day, backed by an unrivalled set of supporters, Saints weren't anywhere near their best against a brutal and brilliant 14-man Bath side who must have been somewhere close to theirs.

But this is not a Northampton team that has needed to be at full throttle to claim crucial victories during a campaign saturated with them.

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While previous Saints sides had the style but lacked the true substance on the biggest days, this characterful team has finally found the magic formula.

They dealt with adversity to win away to the likes of Exeter Chiefs and Munster during the 2023/24 campaign.

And they came up with a habit of winning that has taken the black, green and gold to only a second Premiership title, and a first since way back in 2014.

It has not been an easy road, but thanks to the contributions of so many good men and women, they have finally reached their destination.

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After Saints fell from the top of the tree following their first table-topping campaign in 2015, they needed an abundance of skippers to steer them out of choppy waters.

Alan Dickens and Alan Gaffney combined to lead Saints to safety when it looked like they could be in real relegation peril during the troubled 2017/18 season, during which long-serving boss Jim Mallinder left the club.

In stepped Chris Boyd in the summer of 2018, the Kiwi delivering a clean slate, providing a platform for Academy players to take the field for the first team.

The likes of Lewis Ludlam and George Furbank went from close to the exit door to having trust placed in them like never before.

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And though it was far from plain sailing, the tough experiences they endured only served to build their character.

It wasn't all rosy at the Gardens under Boyd, and it was never going to be as Covid hit Saints hard.

They endured a horrible run of 12 defeats during which Boyd admitted the team was 'finding new ways to lose'.

But what doesn't kill you makes you stronger, and how strong this Saints team would eventually become.

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The club's heirarchy handled the Covid crisis so well, keeping money coming into the club and making sure they kept hold of the players they wanted the most.

Saints were honest with their staff, keeping them informed every step of the way.

Everyone took pay cuts to stay because they had as much trust in the club as the club had in them.

Saints put full focus on the development of players and coaches, refusing to deviate from the master plan despite defeats that threatened to derail them.

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They didn't feel the need to break the bank to draft in big-name players and coaches, instead opting to stick rather than twist while using some incredibly shrewd recruitment to secure the signatures of players who have gone from under the radar to very much front and centre.

That has allowed them develop the kind of depth that saw stellar performers such as Tom Seabrook and last season's big award winner James Ramm not even utilised in Saturday's showpiece.

However, Seabrook, Ramm and every other squad member this season has provided the kind of tough training opposition that the team who have taken to the field every week has needed.

It has helped to steel them for the battle ahead, a battle that has so often been won during this campaign.

A campaign that has been a long time coming.

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It would have been easy to panic more and more as year after year the major silverware eluded Saints.

But when Boyd headed back home during the summer of 2022, Phil Dowson and Sam Vesty stepped up to take charge.

Doubts came from outside as some onlookers feared the coaching development plan wasn't enough to lift Saints to new heights.

Some wanted a super coach, but little did they know that Saints already had super coaches in their ranks.

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All they needed was a chance to fulfil their potential. And they took it, just as their players did.

Dowson, Vesty, Matt Ferguson and the other men in charge, saw the final holes in the boat that needed plugging, and they set about doing just that in methodical fashion.

The arrival of defence coach Lee Radford last summer proved to be one of the final pieces in the title jigsaw.

And Saints, who have turned into the Premiership's top tacklers, have been able to add a steely edge to their razor-sharp attacking game.

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Boyd laid the foundations for that swashbuckling style, and Dowson built on it with the pillars of strength that were required, with the likes of Tom Pearson and Burger Odendaal added to a playing mix that has got better and better under some supreme stewardship.

Behind the scenes, Darbon and Co have held it all together, ensuring Saints haven't overstretched themselves financially at a time when rugby clubs have found it so difficult to survive.

Saints have got creative and sold themselves so well on and off the pitch, standing on the shoulders of a loyal supporter base who have never deserted them, packing stadiums even when the club was in the second tier back in 2007/08.

Now they pack stadiums to watch a top tier team that entertains them week after week.

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A bond has been formed between players and fans, with the Shoe Army chant not just steeling the squad but supporters, too.

In 2014, it was Alex Corbisiero's 'yes' that echoed around Twickenham, this time it was cries of Shoe Army as players and supporters lifted their footwear aloft in celebration.

And on Sunday, it was a similar story as fans flooded onto the streets to welcome their heroes home to Northampton.

This club has incredible support that just craved the silverware to match.

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And now they have it, thanks to the efforts of so many people from the past and present.

But why stop there?

Just as Saints used semi-final heartache at Exeter Chiefs, at Leicester Tigers at Saracens and at Leinster to fuel this fire, now they can use the taste of success to add to the appetite for more.

The legendary double-winners of 2014 spent a long time trying to get to the top of the mountain, and when they did, they couldn't quite sustain it.

But this group looks well set, with so many members of this team still so early on their rugby journey.

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Not only that, but the Academy continues to churn out talent year after year, with the likes of Henry Pollock and Archie McParland among the next cabs off the rank.

Yes, some club legends are leaving this summer, with Alex Waller, Courtney Lawes and Lewis Ludlam, who have all given so much to return Saints to the top, among the departing players.

But does anyone not truly trust this Saints succession planning now?

They have showed before that they know what it takes to evolve.

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And you wouldn't bet against them doing it again as they look to deliver more special memories in the years to come.

How they rated…

MATTY ARDEN - 10

EMEKA ATUANYA - 10

JUARNO AUGUSTUS - 10

EWAN BAKER - 10

CALLUM BRALEY - 10

ALEX COLES - 10

TOBY COUSINS - 10

TOM CRUSE - 10

TREVOR DAVISON - 10

FRASER DINGWALL - 10

TOMMY FREEMAN - 10

GEORGE FURBANK - 10

JAKE GARSIDE - 10

WILL GLISTER - 10

ASTON GRADWICK-LIGHT - 10

SAM GRAHAM - 10

JAMES GRAYSON - 10

TAREK HAFFAR - 10

GABRIEL HAMER-WEBB - 10

GEORGE HENDY - 10

PAUL HILL - 10

RORY HUTCHINSON - 10

GEORDIE IRVINE - 10

MANNY IYOGUN - 10

TOM JAMES - 10

CURTIS LANGDON - 10

COURTNEY LAWES - 10

TOM LITCHFIELD - 10

TOM LOCKETT - 10

REUBEN LOGAN - 10

LEWIS LUDLAM - 10

GEORGE MAKEPEACE-CUBITT - 10

JOEL MATAVESI - 10

SAM MATAVESI - 10

TEMO MAYANAVANUA - 10

ARCHIE MCPARLAND - 10

ELLIOT MILLAR MILLS - 10

ALEX MITCHELL - 10

ALEX MOON - 10

CHUNYA MUNGA - 10

BELTUS NONLEH - 10

BURGER ODENDAAL - 10

GEORGE PATTEN - 10

TOM PEARSON - 10

HENRY POLLOCK - 10

ED PROWSE - 10

JAMES RAMM - 10

CHARLIE SAVALA - 10

ANGUS SCOTT-YOUNG - 10

TOM SEABROOK - 10

OLLIE SLEIGHTHOLME - 10

FIN SMITH - 10

ROBBIE SMITH - 10

KAYDE SYLVESTER - 10

NICK TARR - 10

TOBY THAME - 10

ALEX WALLER - 10

ETHAN WALLER - 10

CRAIG WRIGHT - 10

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