Saints' class of 2000 'were held together by sticking plaster'

John Steele has not been short of work since he took up his role as the chief executive of the Rugby Football Union last September, nor of criticism since. Steele was up to his eyebrows in media speculation last week after the RFU went through one of their navel-gazing exercises over the appointment of a performance director.

He has already transformed the union's administrative side with a raft of new appointments, designed to carry the union forward to a successful management of the 2015 World Cup in England. Now, though, Steele is at odds with some members of the RFU management board over both the job description of the performance director, and whether Sir Clive Woodward fits the bill.

The Twickenham spin machine has been in overdrive and the politics of the union may have caught Steele on the hop. But next weekend he can, at least, look back with misty eyes 11 years to the first Heineken Cup final to be played at Twickenham and the day when Northampton, where he was then in his first season as director of rugby, became champions of Europe, a title they seek to reclaim when they meet Leinster in the 2011 Heineken Cup final at the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff on Saturday.

The Northampton side of today is far removed from that of 2000: the players coached by Jim Mallinder and led by Dylan Hartley form a young squad seeking to make a name for itself. That of Steele's era was replete with internationals from six countries, many of whom were nearing the end of their careers but had never won a significant title, despite the fact they had been prepared by arguably the best coach to emerge from Britain and Ireland, Ian McGeechan.

"We had a strong team but it had not managed to convert that strength into silverware," Steele said. "By the end of the season we were still in the running for the league title, the domestic cup and Europe, which made it very congested. The league fell away, we lost the Tetley's Bitter final to Wasps which left us with the last match of the season."

That was against Munster. "We were held together by sticking plaster but there was a huge desire not to let a really successful season come to nothing," Steele said.

Injury-time goal kicks had carried them through a quarter-final with Wasps and a semi-final with Llanelli, the successful kicker on both occasions being Paul Grayson. Yet Grayson, a seasoned England fly-half, played against Munster out of position, at full back.

"We had Dom Malone and Ali Hepher at half back but Tim Rodber and Garry Pagel were pivotal and Pat Lam was inspirational." Lam, the Samoa No 8, brought succinct New Zealand tones to that squad, just as Hartley (born in Rotorua) does now; he also brought a courage which set the tone against Munster, playing as he did with a shoulder dislocated earlier in the season.

Grayson kicked three penalty goals and that was enough to beat Munster 9-8 on a day when Ronan O'Gara, just entering his lengthy career, missed every kick at goal. "That day was incredibly special," Steele said. "One match delivered what we all wanted but there was a strange feeling on the coach back to Northampton, a stillness as everyone took on board what had happened. We were trying to come to terms with so many aspirations being realised. I look back on that day with a lot of pride and enjoyment and what I'd say to this Northampton team is that you have to enjoy it – 80 minutes like this don't come along often."

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
British musician Mark Ronson arrives for the UK premiere of the film 'Mortdecai'
music
Voices
Winston Churchill, then prime minister, outside No 10 in June 1943
voicesA C Benson called him 'a horrid little fellow', George Orwell would have shot him, but what a giant he seems now, says DJ Taylor
News
i100
Sport
footballBrighton vs Arsenal match report
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch has spoken about the lack of opportunities for black British actors in the UK
film
News
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

What the six wise men told Tony Blair

Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

25 years of The Independent on Sunday

The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

Homeless Veterans appeal

As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

Smash hit go under the hammer

It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

The geeks who rocked the world

A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea
America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

These days in the US things are pretty much stuck where they are, both in politics and society at large, says Rupert Cornwell
A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A veteran of the Fifties campaigns is inspiring a new generation of activists
Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

A C Benson called him 'a horrid little fellow', George Orwell would have shot him, but what a giant he seems now, says DJ Taylor
Growing mussels: Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project

Growing mussels

Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project
Diana Krall: The jazz singer on being friends with Elton John, outer space and skiing in Dubai

Diana Krall interview

The jazz singer on being friends with Elton John, outer space and skiing in Dubai
Pinstriped for action: A glimpse of what the very rich man will be wearing this winter

Pinstriped for action

A glimpse of what the very rich man will be wearing this winter
Russell T Davies & Ben Cook: 'Our friendship flourished online. You can share some very revelatory moments at four in the morning…'

Russell T Davies & Ben Cook: How we met

'Our friendship flourished online. You can share some very revelatory moments at four in the morning…'
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef serves up his favourite Japanese dishes

Bill Granger's Japanese recipes

Stock up on mirin, soy and miso and you have the makings of everyday Japanese cuisine
Michael Calvin: How we need more Eric Cantonas to knock some sense into us

Michael Calvin's Last Word

How we need more Eric Cantonas to knock some sense into us