Prop forward Soane Tonga’uiha has hailed the Northampton Saints supporters for making the county his home.
The 30-year-old held a testimonial match at Franklin’s Gardens last Sunday and saw more than 5,000 fans show up.
It was testament to the high esteem in which the man affectionately known as Tiny is held at Saints.
And the feeling is clearly mutual as cult hero Tonga’uiha hailed the Gardens faithful, who have helped him settle in Northampton since his move from Bedford Blues in 2006.
“We’re very much at home, we’re settled here now,” said the powerhouse prop. “My son goes to school here we’ve been here six or seven years, we’ve still got another year left and we call Northampton home. “That’s testament to all the fans for making us feel welcome and honouring myself by turning up on Sunday in numbers.”
Tonga’uiha was inevitably the star of the show at Sunday’s game, scoring a late try and then kicking the points which saw South Seas beat a Saints select side 67-65.
He attempted an ‘Ash Splash’ (Chris Ashton’s now trademark swallow dive) when crossing the whitewash but it turned out to be more of a prop flop.
And Tonga’uiha put it down to the considerable extra weight he is carrying in comparison to flying wing Ashton.
“I tried and then sort of bottled it halfway in the air,” he laughed. “I sort of curled up as oppose to landing full on.
“I think the weight difference sort of told halfway up in the air. I was suprised, I would have liked to not make it look as organised as that.”
Tonga’uiha’s conversion turned out to be far more composed than his try as he planted a drop kick between the posts.
And he joked that fly-half Ryan Lamb should now be fretting over his place in the side next season.
“I’ll give him a run for his money next season,” said Tonga’uiha.
Former Saints prop Chris Budgen feels his old club have the killer instinct to claim plenty of trophies.
Budgen, who now plays for Exeter Chiefs, felt the full force of Saints last season as they denied his club a top-four spot.
“They’ve got some good players coming through now and there’ll be trophies in the cabinets for them again.”