Wood delighted for Saints’ ‘life and soul’ Hartley

LEADING LIGHTS - Tom Wood (left) and Dylan Hartley show off the Aviva Premiership trophy during last Sunday's victory parade through Northampton
LEADING LIGHTS - Tom Wood (left) and Dylan Hartley show off the Aviva Premiership trophy during last Sunday's victory parade through Northampton
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Tom Wood was delighted for Dylan Hartley after the Saints hooker exorcised his Twickenham demons on Saturday.

Hartley, along with Wood and Phil Dowson, who have been leading the side in the club captain’s absence, hoisted the Aviva Premiership high in the air after a dramatic win against Saracens.

The 24-20 victory, secured by a last-gasp Alex Waller try in extra-time, banished memories of events of the previous year, when Saints lost out to local rivals Leicester.

On that occasion, Hartley was red-carded just before half-time for verbally abusing referee Wayne Barnes.

Months of soul searching followed for the England man - who also missed the British & Irish Lions tour to Australia as a result - but his journey to redemption was to end in league glory on Saturday evening.

And Wood said: “This time last year, no one took it harder than Dylan.

“He’s the life and soul of our camp. He does a lot behind the scenes and to have him back with us on Saturday was huge.

“It’s cruel on Ross McMillan, who’s done a great job in his absence, but when you’ve got quality like Dylan in the squad, it’s great to have.

“His leadership around the squad helps myself out, Phil Dowson and everyone else.

“I’m pleased for Dylan, that he’s managed to experience that on the back of last year and get that off his back.”

Prior to Saturday, Hartley had missed Saints’ previous eight games after fracturing a shoulder blade in the defeat to Leicester at the end of March.

But he emerged from the bench early in the second half as part of a huge squad effort at English rugby HQ.

And Wood says he was always confident that the depth of his side’s reserves would prove key as the extra-time period approached.

“I still thought the ball was in our court because they’d thrown a lot into the first 80 minutes, as we all had, but our fitness has always been our advantage,” said the flanker.

“We’ve proven that over the last couple of weeks and it’s something we’ve prided ourselves on.

“We’ve built a real belief. As tired as we all were, we only had to look at them to lift ourselves and realise they were going through the same, if not worse.

“As tough as it was to do an extra 20 minutes, the longest game I’ve ever played in, I felt like it was ours to win.”