Day reflects on special Saints stay ahead of testimonial year

Christian Day made his 207th Saints appearance in the win against Connacht last Saturday
Christian Day made his 207th Saints appearance in the win against Connacht last Saturday

The 2013/14 season was one of the finest in Saints’ history.

A group of stars aligned to bring not only a first Premiership title back to Franklin’s Gardens, but also a Challenge Cup.

It was a memorable campaign saturated with big individual and team showings.

There was all-conquering American forward Samu Manoa, metronomic Stephen Myler, skilful Samoan scrum-half Kahn Fotuali’i, Wales juggernaut George North and many more men at the peak of their powers.

So the fact Christian Day was the one who claimed the players’ player of the season towards the end of that stellar campaign says a lot for the man.

The experienced lock was the heartbeat of the team.

Reliable could almost have been his middle name as he barely missed a match, ensuring Saints would rarely lose one.

Day, who had arrived at Franklin’s Gardens in the summer of 2008, has been a key cog in the Saints wheel for some time now.

And from July 1, the Blackpool-born player will begin a richly-deserved testimonial season at the club that he has come to call home.

He will look to leave the kind of legacy off the field - by raising money for charity and increasing interest among the younger generation in rugby - that he has on it.

And there is only one place to start when looking back at what has been a superb Saints career so far.

“For me, on the pitch, the double year is my favourite,” said Day, who turns 34 in June.

“Those last few weeks of the season were amazing. I won players’ player of the year, we beat Leicester at home with the last play, we then went and won the Challenge Cup in Cardiff and went straight down to Twickenham, won the Premiership in the 100th minute, the last play of the game.

“The day after, everyone woke up hungover and got told to report to the club for a bus tour and everyone was like ‘why are we doing this?’. We thought only one man and his dog would turn up, but as we left the club, people were lining the roads and it just got busier and busier and busier.

“Eventually, we got to the town centre and there were 20,000 people waiting for us and it was just remarkable.

“That period of time was my best time in terms of rugby. It was just amazing really.”

Day still seems amazed by the fact he won that players’ player of the season award, which was accompanied by a video that included plenty of kind praise from his team-mates at the end-of-season dinner in 2014.

Many described Day as a ‘naus’, while Phil Dowson joked that Day took videos of lineouts home to use as foreplay.

“I can’t remember the video,” Day said, laughing.

“I am studious, I’m very OCD, I like everything to be just right and that’s probably why we’ve had one of the best lineouts in the country for eight or so years.

“I hope there’s more to my game than that.

“You need some players who don’t get the headlines, who hold everything together and in the double-winning year, I guess that was what I was. I was the person who was always there, not necessarily scoring tries or getting man of the match awards, but I was there week in, week out.

“I laugh about the award because Stevie Myler is my best mate and I got players’ player, but he then got man of the match away to Bath, man of the match in the semi-final against Leicester, man of the match in the Challenge Cup final against Bath and man of the match in the Premiership final against Saracens.

“He’d have won players’ player of the year if they’d taken that vote at the end of the year.

“I have a laugh about it, but I played something like 36 games that season, practically every game.

“Samu, Stephen and I were up for players’ player, Samu won supporters’ player of the year and everyone knows how good he was. Stephen is probably the most underrated player in the last 20 years at Saints, so for me to win it that year was pretty special.

“I don’t win too many trophies so it was very good.”

But Day has won plenty of team trophies.

He was a Premiership winner with Sale Sharks in 2006 and since joining Saints, he has helped Jim Mallinder’s men to claim one league title, two Challenge Cups and one Anglo-Welsh Cup.

“Phil Dowson always used to say ‘you remember the trophies you win and the people you played with’.

“I’ve played alongside some amazing rugby players, but more importantly some amazing people.

“People come and go, professional sport is pretty brutal, but for 10 or so of the players to have stuck together for 200 games is remarkable and that group of players has been pretty successful as well, winning the Premiership, topping the table and winning European trophies and Anglo-Welsh Cups as well.

“That group of players are probably coming towards the end of their careers now, but it’s certainly been a fantastic time spent with them.

“I’m just very grateful that I’ve settled at a club that’s helped to do that.”

From speaking to Day once again, it is clear just how much his time in Northampton has meant to him. Even if he did have an initial shock after arriving in the town...

“Everyone arrives in Northampton and like most people do, I headed straight to the town centre, which is probably the worst thing you can possibly do,” Day said, smiling broadly.

“It takes a while to get into the swing of things in Northampton, but there aren’t many places where you can drive five minutes and end up in rolling countryside - it’s absolutely beautiful.

“I owe Northampton a lot and I’m very grateful I’ve managed to spend 10 years here.

“Professional sport is mercenary at times and you’ll find players jump around from one club to another so to say that next year will be my 10th at the club is incredible.

“I’ve played more than 200 games for the club, won trophies and most importantly settled here with my family.

“I’ve got two children who were born in the town and Northampton has become a big part of my life. I owe it quite a lot for that.”

Day might have been the ultimate team man since moving to Saints, but he certainly still stands out on the pitch thanks, in no small part, to his wife, Kirsty.

“I’ve always worn a scrum cap,” he explained. “I was sponsored by Canterbury and I always wore a black one, but then I got a bad injury away to Munster in the Heineken Cup (in January, 2010), broke my neck and my wife said ‘you never get the credit you deserve, we need to make you stand out’.

“She said I had to get one to stand out so I asked Canterbury to send me one that would make me stand out and it just happened to be a red one. Sure enough, I started to stand out a bit more.

“I think it was probably the season I broke through into the first team and it was the Heineken Cup final year (2010/11). It’s one of those things.

“Since then, Canterbury always send me red ones so I always wear red ones.”

Day showed incredible mental strength to overcome that serious neck injury, and he has since set about helping others through tough times.

As the chairman of the Rugby Players’ Association, he has put his weight behind the RPA’s official charity, Restart Rugby.

It provides vital support for players when they have no one else to turn to and the Lift the Weight campaign addresses mental health issues among players.

“It (the neck injury) wasn’t necessarily my toughest time,” Day said. “It’s never nice having bad injuries and I had to have some pretty major surgery, but you put yourself in the hands of medics. You trust them to get you back on the pitch and it’s part of life as a rugby player.

“If you go through your career never being injured you’re a lucky boy.

“The worst times are when you’re not performing as a team or individually and you don’t feel like you’re doing the badge credit.

“It is pretty tough to go home after a poor performance and it’s a while until you next play.

“We’re judged Saturday to Saturday, that’s part of being a professional sportsman and that’s why our charity, Restart Rugby, have launched this Lift The Weight campaign.

“Sport, in particular, can be a dark place when things aren’t going right and it’s important that everyone speaks to each other and don’t go down dark paths they shouldn’t.”

With Saints having failed to meet expectations since topping the Premiership regular-season table for the first time in 2015, the players feel the pain.

And Day is doing what he can to use his experience to help the club’s youngsters deal with the pressure of life in top-level professional rugby.

“I try to help, it’s just part of my make-up,” he said.

“I’ve probably got a better rugby brain than a rugby body.

“It’s the coaches’ job to coach, but if I can add bits and pieces, that’s why I’m part of the squad.

“I’m under no illusions that part of my strength as a player is the mental side of my game so if I can pass that on, it’s brilliant.

“The likes of Lewis Ludlum, who is coming through now and will be a brilliant player, is someone I’ll try to take under my wing and help him become a first-team standard player as quickly as he can.”

During his testimonial year, Day will be bidding to drive Saints back to where they feel they belong.

He has built up a strong affinity with the town of Northampton and the expecations it has for its rugby team.

And he is desperate to ensure he and his team-mates live up to them next time round.

“It’s very much emphasised when you come here that Northampton is a rugby town,” Day said.

“Playing for Sale Sharks in Manchester, I could go out in my Sale Sharks suit and no one would have a clue who I was.

“Whereas that first time you go to Northampton Sainsburys and you can feel people watching you as you move through the store, it’s quite interesting.

“It’s very much emphasised to us how important rugby is to the town.

“It’s not a glamorous place to live, let’s be honest, and we’re here to be rugby players so the culture that was built at the club was all about returning the club to where it should have been after a year in National League One.

“Over the last 10 years, we’ve done that pretty successfully.

“This season’s been a bit of a disappointment, but everyone will have their ups and downs and it’s important that we try to build towards where things should be.”

If Saints are to do that, you can bet Day’s contribution will be vital, just as it has been throughout his 10 years at the Gardens.

For updates on Christian Day’s testimonial year, head to www.day5testimonial.com

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