THROUGH THEIR EYES: Saints 23 Perpignan 7 - Jon Clarke

In the first of a new series of features, we rewind the clock exactly nine years as Jon Clarke talks us through a sensational afternoon for Saints against Perpignan.

By Tom Vickers
Friday, 1st May 2020, 3:58 pm
Jon Clarke enjoyed a memorable afternoon against Perpignan
Jon Clarke enjoyed a memorable afternoon against Perpignan

Jim Mallinder's men had marched into the 2010/11 Heineken Cup semi-finals and would meet the French powerhouse at Stadium MK on May 1, 2011.

It was to be another day to remember for the black, green and gold as they stormed to victory, booking their place in the Cardiff showpiece in the process.

Clarke was among the scorers, grabbing a fine try, with Ben Foden also dotting down and Stephen Myler notching two conversions and three penalties in a 23-7 success.

Clarke found a way through and scored

We look back at the game through the eyes of Clarke here...

Q: What can you remember about the build-up to the game?

A: We were lucky enough to play our quarter-final at the same place so we knew the pitch was fast and if we could move the ball and get momentum it would be hard to defend. We were obviously nervous as well because in terms of Perpignan, you never knew what they would be like. You always knew how good they were at home, but away from home they could be on or off. Perpignan were obviously a very good team back then, big boys as well. I remember it being such a hot day, there were so many fans there and it was a ridiculously good atmosphere when we went out to play.

Q: What was said in the dressing room before the match?

Clarke enjoyed his moment as his team-mates rushed to join him

A: Things are always quite the same really because you go through the analysis, look at their weaknesses and strengths and go through our advantages. In the end, a lot of it against Perpignan was 'just do what we've always done, play with speed and move their big boys around'. That was one of the biggest focuses, to move their big lads around the field. At the time, we were a very good team and did very well when we were moving forward. The usual thing was 'make sure you scrum'. It was 'Brian (Mujati) sort it out, (Soane) Tonga'uiha sort it out and get those penalties'. We wanted to put pressure on them, make the big boys work and that will help you out. French teams are always good at scrum, maul and stuff like that.

Q: How confident were you that you could win that game?

A: We were definitely confident. Of all the semi-finals for a team to play, that was probably the best one to have. We'd obviously worked our socks off to get home advantage in the quarter-final and semis and it just showed how important it was. Playing Perpignan away would have probably been totally different, but getting Perpignan down the road from us was brilliant really. We were always confident going into any game at that point. We were having a really good season, it was a real good group of lads and we were certainly enjoying ourselves on and off the field and that culture just really worked for us. It was probably a bit ruthless in terms of banter for some but as a group it all worked for us and it was a good season and a confident season.

Q: What was the mood like at half-time?

There was a lap of honour as Saints celebrated their success

A: I struggle to think. It probably wasn't the same as the final when we were 22-6 up. It felt a bit closer at the time against Perpignan and it was just about carrying on what we were doing. We were doing exactly what we'd talked about and we needed to keep doing it. We didn't want to change what we were doing. We were getting a lot of go-forward and we needed to stick to our analysis. I recall talking to Jimmy Downey, who was always next to me, and we knew if we could look after the ball we could get some joy from it. We certainly felt the game was in our hands, not theirs.

Q: What was it like when you scored?

A: It was fantastic really - it wasn't even a move! We'd never done it before ever, it was just off the cuff. We overran it and Myler just threw a big pass. The first thing to say was that it was outstanding and then 'Myler, we should definitely use that next week'. The hole opened up and you've just got to take your chances. Looking back at those photos from that day of the try, Fodes' try and that scrum where we decimated them with Dylan (Hartley), Bri and Tonga'uiha as well and just their faces and how special that game was to everyone. Playing in front of a big crowd on that day was great.

Q: How did the atmosphere on the pitch feel?

Ben Foden certainly enjoyed the celebrations

A: You could just tell everyone was excited. Even though you might not necessarily hear the chants, normally when everyone's enjoying themselves you're always constantly hearing something and it was just constant noise in that game. You certainly know when things are going quiet and you're like 'what's going on, we can hardly hear anyone?', but on that day it was constant noise and everyone enjoyed it. It was a nice day out really.

Q: How did it feel when the final whistle sounded?

A: At the time, it was just enjoyment. It was good to know we were in a final but it was about us having played well.

Q: How did you celebrate after the game?

A: Beer. I put suncream on my face, got the aftersun and had a beer. It's a weird one because you'd love it to go semi-final and then final but you know you have to wait weeks for it. We had a (Premiership) semi-final the week before the final so we knew we had lots more to play for and we just enjoyed the moment really. In terms of our culture, we always celebrated after a game and we always had beers. Jim (Mallinder) and Westy (Dorian West) wanted us to make sure we enjoyed ourselves because we worked hard. It was always a nice little treat because we'd play on Saturday, work our socks off and then have a few beers. The message was to never take it too far and to know our limits, but not many people did know their limits, especially when you're a team full of Roger Wilsons, Jimmy Downey, Besty (Neil Best), Tonga'uiha, who was a nightmare, (Chris) Ashton, who was a nutter, the list goes on. When you look at that team it was crazy. I'm not sure people get up to that as much these days. It would be interesting to hear what guys are like on the beers now because social media is so there now it's hard to get away with things.