Final would be surreal for rejuvenated Long

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Andy Long admits it would be surreal to crown his time at Saints with a Premiership winner’s medal.

The veteran hooker joined in 2009 but it wasn’t until this season that he made his first start for the club.

Long had been signed on for another season, but also took on a part-time coaching role at Cambridge – having previously worked with Stewarts & Lloyds – as he planned for his future.

And at the beginning of the campaign the former Bath and Newcastle hooker was allowed to go to Cambridge games on Saturday.

But injuries to Mike Haywood and Brett Sharman saw Long called up for Saints duty before Dylan Hartley’s Six Nations call-up and then suspension mean the 34-year-old has been a regular feature in the front row as Northampton look to win their first Premiership title.

It is more than a decade since Long’s only Premiership final, a defeat against a Leicester side that included his now Saints forwards coach Dorian West.

At the start of the season Long readily admits he never thought he would be in this position, but now he is looking at a second Premiership final, whether on the bench or starting as Hartley’s ban will end in time.

“It would be incredible and would be a little bit surreal,” said Long, whose end-of-season form has won him a contract with Gloucester for next season.

“I had been out on the back pitch on a Saturday watching the boys prepare for games.

“Being injured at the beginning of the season – and then being away with Cambridge and coaching them because I had dispensation from Jim Mallinder – meant I didn’t really seeing many of the Saints games, so to be here now is amazing.

“Halfway through the season I got the opportunity and I have really enjoyed it and feel I have taken it.”

After thinking his career, which began in 1995 with Bath, was petering out, Long is now on the verge of one of the biggest moments any player can have in the game.

And he says during dark days, when doubts would have crept in about his future and he ended up playing in Spain after leaving Newcastle, he kept believing in his ability.

“I have had good support at home from my family and always kept belief that I could play a bit,” said Long.

“At the moment it is going okay, but we need another big performance and then that is us into a final.”

Long may be short on time left in the game, but he has plenty of experience in the tank.

He knows about big-pressure games like Saturday’s semi-final at Harlequins.

“They come down to the tiny little bits of detail and error-free rugby,” said Long.

“It is the side that generally makes the fewest mistakes that wins.

“We need to make sure we are accurate in our set-piece and when we the have ball we keep hold of it.

“They have some dangerous players like Danny Care and Nick Evans, we are going to have to do our homework.

“If we go out there and play like we know we can play, with intensity, urgency and accuracy, we are match for any side.

“We are 80 minutes away from a Premiership final which doesn’t come around too many times.”