Northampton Saints’ comeback captain Dylan Hartley dismissed any doubt about his front-row colleague Alex Waller’s extra-time try to win the Aviva Premiership, saying: “I looked at Alex as he stood up and he said ‘got it’. We scored the most tries in the league, we had the best defensive record, we deserved to win.”
Waller’s score in the last minute was subject to two minutes’ review by the television match official (TMO) Graham Hughes as Saracens were unable to cling on to a 20‑17 lead and prevent defeat for the second major final in eight days.
The referee, JP Doyle, could not be sure whether Waller had scored but Hughes’ confirmation made Northampton champions for the first time, and the eighth club to win that title in England after Leicester, Wasps, Bath, Newcastle, Sale, Saracens and Harlequins since leagues began in 1987.
“We’ve created history, that’s the amazing thing,” said Hartley, who was sent off against Leicester when Northampton lost their first Premiership final a year ago. “It’s testimony to years of hard work and all season we’ve talked every Monday about being champions.”
The hooker who played as a substitute after two months out with a shoulder injury is due to fly out tomorrow for England’s tour of New Zealand among about a dozen Northampton and Saracens players; the latter group swallowing another gutwrenching loss to go with the one to Toulon in the Heineken Cup.
Also on the plane is Steve Myler, the Northampton fly-half and man of the match, who said: “It’s hard to take in – what a strange game and a strange finish, and an amazing feeling” while Northampton’s director of rugby Jim Mallinder said: “We’ve been in Saracens’ shoes, we know what it’s like to lose and it’s all the sweeter having come through that.
“It’s a real sense of relief. We were pleased to win last week’s Amlin Cup final but this was always the top of the agenda.”
Myler decided against trying for a drop goal that would have levelled the scores and won the title for Northampton on try count during the 24-phase sequence that ended with Waller’s try and Mallinder smiled: “Steve definitely knew a draw would be enough because we told him in the break in extra time. No problem, though, we went through the phases and scored under the posts.
“We said all the way along this season that we back our fitness. We showed a lot of courage and belief to get through the semi-final against Leicester [two weeks ago] and we showed that again today.”
Several interventions by the TMO, and one apparently forward pass by Northampton that was not looked at, led Saracens’ chief executive Ed Griffiths to describe the system as “a shambles”. Mark McCall, the director of rugby, said: “All I want to talk about is our team. Did [Saracens’ retiring captain] Steve Borthwick deserve better? Probably but he won’t complain about it.”