Jim Mallinder described veteran hooker Andy Long as ‘magnificent’ after his try at Bath sealed an impressive win against his former club.
The 34-year-old started the season as fourth-choice hooker at Saints but he is fast becoming number one in many fans’ eyes.
Saints’ set-piece has certainly not wavered with Long on the pitch and it was another masterful display at the scrum and lineout that put paid to Bath.
It was Long’s 197th Premiership appearance and club captain Dylan Hartley’s eight-week ban means he should rack up 200 before the season is over.
And if Saints do reach the Premiership final, will Jim Mallinder move Long aside for the returning Hartley?
Either way, Mallinder knows he will have a solid set-piece to work from.
The Saints director of rugby said: “Andy has been really good for us. He is getting towards that stage of probably hanging up his boots, but he played magnificently at Bath as he has done over the last few weeks.
“We have three hookers unavailable and Andy has come in and done a very good job for us.”
After arriving midway through the 2009-10 season, Long had to wait until this campaign to make his first start for the club.
He made 22 appearances from the bench in a season and a half, patiently biding his time in the Wanderers for much of it.
The fact he has come in and done so well this season is testament to Long’s attitude and fitness. Even at 34, he is in fantastic shape and one of the fittest forwards at the club. When the players go running, Long runs alongside the backs.
And scoring against the club where it all began 14 years ago was a sweet moment for Long.
“I played for seven very happy years at Bath, so it was nice to come here and get a win,” said Long.
“I was lucky to be on the back of a maul that was going quite well and dotted down, I was very pleased.”
Long will have been especially pleased as he was deprived the biggest moment of a player’s career while at Bath.
After playing in the quarter-final and semi-final of the Heineken Cup of Bath’s triumphant march to the title in 1998, Long was left out of the final in favour of Mark Regan and Federico Mendez and didn’t even receive a medal.
“They were not a bad pair of hookers but I was obviously disappointed,” said Long.
“I haven’t got a Heineken Cup winner’s medal because they didn’t go round the squad then, which I’m still a bit gutted about but that’s the way it is.
“That was a fantastic Bath team, though, and I’m fortunate I played a part in the pool and knockout stages, so you’ve got to be philosophical about it.”
Long will be hoping the same doesn’t happen again if Saints reach the Premiership final, especially as this could be his swansong season in the Premiership, with his contract at Franklin’s Gardens up in June.
The former Bath, Newcastle, Rotherham and Munster hooker feels there is something similar to that Bath success brewing at Northampton.
Returning to The Rec on Saturday brought back good memories, especially as the 5.30pm kick-off allowed him to have a wander round the picturesque Roman city before kick-off.
“It is interesting,” said Long.
“I remember the first time I came back to Bath with Newcastle and we won, which was nice.
“Bath are steeped in so much history. I was reading a book about the history of the club in Waterstones in the town. When I joined the club straight from school I was playing and training alongside players I grew up with – Andy Robinson, Martin Haag, who is now forwards coach there, Callard, De Glanville, Guscott.
“They really moulded me as a player – I owe a lot to Bath. It was great going back with a team like Northampton because we work really hard for each other.
“There is no special ingredient, it is literally hard work.
“We are organised and we are quite humble as well.
“We know we have to work hard to get the best out us and if we don’t we get beaten, it is that pressure that drives us on.
“We needed a performance at Bath. We were embarrassed when we went down there in the LV= Cup and so it was good to put in a good display.
“We felt we had them up front and it was good to show it.”