Saints legend Myler can't wait to make first return to Franklin's Gardens

On Friday night, Saints supporters will get a chance to welcome back a club legend.

Wednesday, 22nd January 2020, 6:13 pm
Updated Thursday, 23rd January 2020, 11:14 am
Stephen Myler was man of the match when Saints beat Saracens to win their first and so far only Premiership title in 2014

And they will just be hoping that Stephen Myler doesn't manage to mastermind the kind of success he did so often while wearing the black, green and gold.

Myler, second only to Paul Grayson in Saints' list of all-time points scorers, spent 12 years at Franklin's Gardens before moving to London Irish in the summer of 2018.

He racked up more than 300 matches for Saints, playing a key role in so many memorable moments.

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Myler is second on Saints' list of all-time points scorers

Myler was man of the match in both finals as Northampton claimed Premiership and Challenge Cup glory in 2014.

He eventually said an emotional goodbye on the final day of the 2017/18 season before moving to London Irish.

He helped his new club to return to England's top flight at the first time of asking and they are currently 10th in the Premiership standings.

They will hope to improve on that position by beating Saints this week, and there will be much attention on Myler's first return to Franklin's Gardens.

Myler said goodbye to life at the Gardens in May 2018

But the man himself, so rarely fazed by any external factors, is unlikely to lose his cool.

"It will obviously be different, returning and not playing for Saints," Myler told this publication on Wednesday afternoon.

"I'm just excited really because I haven't been back since I left.

"I'm just excited to get playing and obviously it's going to be a tough challenge for us.

The fly-half has helped to steer London Irish back into the Premiership

"It's a challenge we're looking forward to and we want to go out there and put in a decent performance.

"I guess I'll find out how I feel on Friday.

"First and foremost, it's a fantastic place to play rugby. It's a great atmosphere, the supporters get behind the home team and that provides a good place to go and play.

"It will be difficult for London Irish going up there but it's something we're looking forward to."

Myler was unable to enjoy the conclusion to his Saints career he really wanted as the club started to slip after finishing top of the Premiership table for the first time in 2015.

And the 35-year-old said: "I wasn't in a great place when I left Saints - it probably was the right time to leave.

"I needed a change from a personal point of view - a change of living somewhere different and coming to a new club with a different challenge.

"It was what I needed and it has kind of given me another lease of life.

"Physically I feel really good - better than I have for the past five years.

"I have no feelings about retiring at the moment and I feel I've got a few more years in me comfortably.

"I still want to win, I'm still competitive and I still want to help my club do well.

"As long as my body says 'yes, you can do it', I want to play, so I've got no immediate plans to call it quits because I don't feel ready for that."

So just why were the closing chapters of Myler's Saints career so difficult to write?

"I'm not too sure - it was hard to put my finger on it," he said.

"I had a bit of a difficult time over a period of years with injury, playing with an injury I should have had dealt with.

"It probably affected me more than I thought. I had it cleared up and now I'm feeling the benefit of that.

"I wish I'd got it dealt with a little bit sooner. I had that patella injury for two or three years, which I could still play with.

"It was a niggle and I wasn't at 100 per cent, but as a rugby player you know you're going to have to play with those things.

"But now it's feeling really good so physically I'm in a good place, which helps your mental state as well.

"And then add that to a fresh environment and a fresh living situation and it's given me another challenge to get my teeth into.

"I'm feeling really good."

It's clear just how beneficial the move to the Madejski Stadium has been for Myler.

He added: "It's been good. It's obviously been a little different with the drop down to the Championship last year, but I feel like the club has taken some good strides during my time here.

"The club has got even bigger ambitions in the future with the move to Brentford and things like that, and I've enjoyed my time here.

"We've had a lot of work to do since I got here, but we're a tight-knit bunch and we're all trying to contribute as best we can to get the club in a good position.

"It's a similar situation (to when Saints rebuilt after being relegated in 2007) but the difference is that everything's more competitive now and the Championship is a very competitive league, which we found.

"But we strengthened during the summer and we added some high profile names that are hopefully making us competitive in the Premiership.

"We're still aware we've got lots of work to do and it's not a scary thing - it's something we're looking to get our teeth into and working hard to keep making our way up the table."

While London Irish's aims are very much to consolidate this season, Saints have loftier ambitions thanks to the work done by Chris Boyd and Co.

And Myler has been impressed by what he has witnessed from afar.

"I haven't watched them every week but from what I've seen, they look like they're onboard with how their coaching staff want them to play now," he said.

"They've had the benefit of some good recruitment and some of the younger lads have been given a chance that they've taken.

"The strength in depth they've got now is really good and it's what you need in the Premiership.

"They've got the likes of (Rory) Hutchinson and (George) Furbank coming through and they're more than capable of performing week on week.

"They've also got some good international players in there and they've added to what the club is built on."

It has echoes of the halcyon days of Myler and Co several years ago, when Saints were competing at the top table of European rugby.

He helped them reach the Heineken Cup final in 2011 and they won plenty of silverware during his time at Franklin's Gardens, including that first Premiership crown in 2014.

"I only look back fondly on my time at Northampton," Myler said.

"From the time I went there after switching over from rugby league to the time I left, I've only got good memories.

"Being away from the club for the past 18 months, it makes you appreciate the good times a bit more, which can get lost when you pick up injuries or get frustrated with how you're playing.

"On reflection, I only have really good memories of the supporters, of the club, of the lads.

"I have nothing bad to say about it and only good memories to think of.

"The title in 2014 was a long time coming.

"Having been in the Championship and building year on year, it was a journey that culminated in that double year.

"We obviously had a fantastic team, which is was a pleasure to be part of and contribute to.

"I've got very, very fond memories of that double-winning year."

Saints did lose their way after 2015, eventually leading to the departure of many long-serving players as well as successful boss Jim Mallinder.

And Myler said: "I was the same as anybody who was involved in the club; we were all frustrated that we didn't kick on from where we were for a number of reasons.

"There was obviously a change in the management setup and all those things that leave a bit of uncertainty.

"I was probably no different to the supporters who were watching, the other players and probably some of the coaches - it was just a bit of a frustrating time because we felt we should have been in a better place than the table said we were.

"I felt like we had more in us basically."

Saints and Myler may not have been able to turn the ship around together, but their parting of the ways clearly did them both good in the long run.

And now the two parties can look forward to a fond reunion on Friday night.

"There have been a few changes, but there's still the nucleus of the squad to some extent and I'll look forward to catching up with them during and after the game," Myler said.