Moment in Time: Northampton Saints and the 2000 Heineken Cup final

Ben Cohen, Tim Rodber and Pat Lam lifting the trophyFew people had rated Northampton’s chances of lifting the Heineken Cup. Still fewer gave them a prayer after they had lost their second Pool match away at Grenoble, 18-20. But gradually, inch-by-inch, their campaign had caught fire and after edging a pair of tourniquet-tight knock-out games against Wasps (25-22) and Llanelli (31-28), John Steele’s side found themselves lining up for a final against mighty Munster knowing that history was there to be made.
Saints had already been to one Twickenham final that season and lost. They had been over-confident going into their Tetley’s Bitter Cup denouement against Wasps and paid a heavy price, losing
23-31 to a side that eventually finished below them in the Premiership. Europe offered an immediate chance of redemption and on a day that began with thunder, lightning and torrential rain, Steele’s side whipped up a storm of their own to claim the spoils.
“Our team had been building under Ian McGeechan the year before,” recalls Saints prop forward Matt Stewart. “We had home-grown guys like Tim Rodber and Matt Dawson, but then suddenly the club started to sign world-class players. People said our forwards were soft, but all that changed when guys like Federico Mendez, Martin Scelzo and Garry Pagel turned up. He was top of the tree, Garry, and inspired all the young guys who were making their way.
“Suddenly our pack could do the business and no one pushed us around anymore. We had a world-class back-row in Budge Pountney, Pat Lam and Donny Mackinnon and from the very first scrum of that final against Munster we smashed them back and believed this could be our day. For the first 20 minutes they didn’t touch the ball and we had all the possession.”
Despite their domination, Saints couldn’t locate the try-line. Incredibly, they trailed 3-8 at the break and the possibility began to dawn that this was not to be their day. Says Stewart: “We were all over them, dominating all areas, but they got a breakaway try through David Wallace and we just couldn’t seal the deal. You began to wonder what was happening out there.”
With seemingly the entire population of Northampton urging them on, Steele’s men emerged from the dressing rooms determined to end their long search for major silverware. Cometh the hour, cometh the man and it was current Saints assistant coach Paul Grayson who coolly banged over two penalties to put his side in front. Meanwhile, a young Ronan O’Gara endured a nightmare at the other end, missing four kicks from four on a forgettable afternoon.
Stewart said: “We were hanging on a bit at the end of a long season, but we got a bit lucky because O’Gara, who was in his first season at the club, couldn’t hit a barn door. He missed two absolute sitters to win it, including one right at the end of the game.”
Saints deserved their win, though, and had done it without two regular campaigners in Nick Beal and Dawson, both missing through injury. “Nick had broken his leg and Matt didn’t make the final either after damaging his shoulder, but a young scrum-half called Dom Malone came in at nine and was probably our man-of-the-match,” Stewart said.

The Saints players celebrate the victory
The Saints players celebrate the victory

“We had a very young Ali Hepher at 10 and Paul Grayson was playing at full-back. Grayse will be the first to tell you he hadn’t got the most gas in the world but he had a fantastic rugby brain and was as solid as a rock. He kicked the pressure goals that got us home.”
Saints had their long-awaited cup win and it cost the club owner dear. Stewart adds: “I’d have liked the score to have been a bit more convincing, but our name was on it and boy did we celebrate. We went to a local club in Northampton and I always remember our chairman, Keith Barwell, saying all the beers were on him. It cost him £30,000 but nobody cared!”
1. Garry Pagel: Returned to South Africa in 2001 and is now a farmer.
2. Federico Mendez: Joined Bordeaux that summer, then had a year at Natal Sharks before returning to Argentina in 2002 to play for Mendoza, where he is now coaching.
3. Matt Stewart: Joined Bedford in 2003 but retired in 2005 to concentrate on his Army career. Is now forwards coach to the Army rugby team as well as National League outfit Canterbury.
4. Andy Newman: Spent four years at Neath-Swansea Ospreys between 2002 and 2006 before playing for Glasgow (2006-8), Grenoble (2008-10) and London Scottish (2010-11). Is now a business development manager at Vestra Wealth.
5. Tim Rodber: Retired in 2001 and is now CEO of banking firm Williams Lea, Americas.
6. Don Mackinnon: Joined Edinburgh that summer but was forced to retire through injury a year later. Moved into coaching with Edinburgh and then Coventry, whom he left in 2006 to return to Australia. Current whereabouts are unknown.
7. Budge Pountney:  Retired through injury in 2003 and became joint-head coach and then director of rugby at Saints before leaving the club in November 2006. Is now a partner at Rugbytots South Hants and a director of Water Babies.
8. Pat Lam: Joined Newcastle for a year in 2001 and then got involved in coaching at Auckland and took charge of the Blues in 2009. Was recently relieved of his position after poor Super XV season.
9. Dominic Malone: Signed for Munster in 2002, but returned to England to play for Bedford in 2003 before retiring in 2007. He now works in the construction and renovation industry.
10. Ali Hepher: Joined Bedford in 2002, but then returned to Saints after retiring to run the club’s academy between 2006 and 2009. Joined Exeter as assistant coach in 2009.
11: Ben Cohen: Joined Brive in 2007 where he played for two years before signing for Sale. Quit playing in 2011 and is now involved in the fight against homophobia and bullying through the Ben Cohen StandUp Foundation.
12. Matt Allen: Joined Cardiff Blues in 2001 where he played for three years before ending his career at Bedford. Is now a player development manager for the Rugby Players Association.
13. Allan Bateman: Joined Neath in 2001, then moved to Bridgend where he played until 2006. Now works as a pathologist for the NHS in South Wales.
14. Craig Moir: Left to play for Borders in 2003, then spent four years at Bedford before calling it a day in 2008. Now works in the computer services industry.
15. Paul Grayson: Retired in 2005 before becoming joint-head coach at Saints. Held the fort during the difficult 2006-7 relegation season and is now assistant coach to Jim Mallinder.
James Bramhall (for Malone, 63): Joined Sale Sharks in 2001, then played for
Manchester and Rossendale whilst establishing himself as an RFU Community Coach in Bury.
Martin Scelzo (for Stewart, 67): Joined Narbonne in 2001 and has gone on to enjoy a glittering career with Clermont Auvergne and Argentina, whom he has represented at three World Cups.
Jon Phillips (for Newman, 70): Joined Bedford in 2004 and is now director of rugby at Moulton College, partner college of the Saints academy. Has also coached at Peterborough.

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