Tonga’uiha backing Saints to end winless streak against Tigers

Soane Tonga'uiha celebrates scoring a try in his Saints playing days (Picture: Linda Dawson)
Soane Tonga'uiha celebrates scoring a try in his Saints playing days (Picture: Linda Dawson)

“Is that the last time we beat them?” says a shocked Soane Tonga’uiha when reminded of Saints’ victory against Leicester in September, 2010. “That is a long time ago.”

The Tongan prop scored twice in that match at Franklin’s Gardens that saw then reigning champions Tigers humbled on the opening day of the new Premiership season.

Pictures by Linda Dawson ENGNNL00120120812020654

Pictures by Linda Dawson ENGNNL00120120812020654

Saints outmuscled and out-thought their east midlands rivals on a sun-soaked day in Northampton.

But the clouds have gathered over the Gardens since then, with Leicester growing used to dominating derby days.

Tonga’uiha, who departed for Racing Metro last summer after seven years at Northampton, saw his last game for Saints – last May’s Premiership final - end in defeat to Richard Cockerill’s clan.

But he has far fonder memories of that day four years ago, when Saints still got over the line to record a 27-19 win and claim the coveted bragging rights.

Pictures by Linda Dawson ENGNNL00120130501155947

Pictures by Linda Dawson ENGNNL00120130501155947

“It was the first game of the season and the team was pumped up by the fact the season had just started and that it was Leicester,” recalls Tonga’uiha. “That rivalry has been there for years and it will still be there for years to come.

“The way we prepared for that week was quite good. What we focused on at training, we pulled off during the game and it was one of those things where it worked and we came up with a good result.

“I remember we had a strong start and once we started strong going towards the south stand we fancied ourselves. We were always strong going towards that end. It carried us home.

“The start was what won us that game.”

Tonga’uiha was described as a ‘massive threat’ after an encounter in which he profited from a lineout before making the most of good work from Ben Foden and Chris Ashton.

And he still remembers it as one of his finest hours in a Northampton shirt.

“One of the tries I was just in the right place at the right time with Ashy’s break and the other one wasn’t much to talk about, just picking the ball up from the forwards’ hard work,” said the ever-modest 32-year-old.

“Those two tries were ones that will stay in my memory for the rest of my life really.”

Tonga’uiha’s gung-ho approach was a trademark of Saints’ play during his time at the club with he and Brian Mujati, who also moved to Paris at the start of this season, becoming firm fans’ favourites.

That Northampton team of the 2010/11 season had an aura. There was an inexorable feeling about the forward pack, which melted numerous opposition eights on a regular basis.

That campaign encompassed a Premiership semi-final, which was lost at Leicester, and a Heineken Cup final defeat to Leinster, and there are similarities in Saints’ extended run in three competitions this season.

So do Mallinder’s men still have that sort of feared nature about them? From what Tonga’uiha has seen from watching on television in France, they do.

“They definitely still do,” he said. “Alex Waller has stepped up and they’ve carried on the tradition of a strong forward pack.

“But they’ve also got a bit more now because Alex King has had an input on releasing some of the backs and haaving George North and Kahn (Fotuali’i) helps with the variations.

“The core of the set piece is still there and the boys have really not taken a step back during the last few years. If anything, they’ve taken a step forward.”

But they have still not got that elusive win against the familiar foe.

And Tonga’uiha knows it will take a huge physical performance from his old team if they are to make this week the one the 10-match winless run comes to an end.

He said: “Leicester are one of the teams that Saints are trying to copy what they do up the road.

“In the past few years, Saints have matched them and bettered them, which hasn’t gone down well with them.

“Leicester will go to Saints to try to bully them up front.

“I know they’re missing Dan Cole, but they still have strength in depth and will try to tear Saints apart up front.”

But does Tonga’uiha think Saints are capable of standing up to that threat and claim a victory that would secure a place in the Twickenham showpiece on May 31?

“I think they will,” he said confidently.

“They need to be strong up front and shut down key players like the two Island boys (Manu Tuilagi and Niki Goneva) in the backline, and I think they can do that.

“I think the Saints will do it at home. Everyone will be pumped up for it.”