Prop Painter ready for more special experiences in Saints colours
Ehren Painter smiles as he sits at the top of the South Stand and looks down on the spot from where he watched Saints' stunning Premiership play-off semi-final success against Leicester Tigers in 2014.
Back then, Painter was just a 16-year-old fan and member of the Northampton Academy.But fast forward four and a half years and he is now a fully-fledged member of the Saints first-team squad.Painter penned his first senior contract at the club earlier this week, capping a rapid rise to prominence.He made his first-team debut in the defeat to Saracens in April and a week later he turned in the display which will now for ever be known as his breakthrough performance.Aptly, that showing came against Leicester at Welford Road, where Saints won for the first time since 2007.Painter came off the bench to deliver a stunning cameo, winning scrum penalties and making one huge intervention close to his own line to stop Tigers scoring what would have been a crucial try."I missed the tackle on (Sione) Kalmafoni off the kick-off so I was just trying to think about trying to do something good so the lads wouldn't punch me after the game," said Painter, laughing."I was just looking for a moment to try to right my wrongs."Painter certainly did that, helping Saints to preserve their lead as they secured a incredible 27-21 success at the home of their local rivals.But it was a bitter-sweet day for the young prop as, in the first minute of the game, Rob Horne suffered the injury that would end his career prematurely."Personally, the day was very, very mixed," Painter said. "Because of all the stuff with Horney, I can't look at the day with a full beaming smile because everyone here and the whole rugby world misses him like crazy."But it was an amazing experience to be in front of 25,000 screaming Leicester fans and get the double over them."I had some fairly decent scrums so it was a brilliant second appearance for me."It gave me a good confidence boost and it just makes you so hungry for those moments again."Plenty more big moments have followed, with Painter racking up 11 appearances so far for the Saints first team.He has played eight times this season and while he admits not everything has gone well for him, Painter can't help but savour the experiences he is been given at such a young age."Boydy, Dows, Ferg and Vesty have all been super supportive and given me so many opportunities," Painter said."I just hope I continue to play throughout the season."It hasn't all been pretty and successful but it's just great experience in the bank that I'm learning from and hopefully I can put in some decent performances that put Saints in a good place."Painter was born in London but grew up in Essex, eventually coming to the attention of Simon Sinclair, who is now Academy manager at Saints."Ever since I got scouted, my attention was fully on Saints," Painter said. "I was born in London, but don't worry - I was never a Saracens fan!"I've got a lot of friends who are Saracens supporters but I never was."We came to the semi-final here in the year we won the Premiership and that was brilliant."It was the best rugby game I've ever seen as a spectator. It was amazing."From an entertainment point of view, it was fantastic."Painter has gone from watching Tom Wood scoring the winning try to playing alongside him and several other members of the double-winning squad of 2013/14.And when asked whether he ever thought he would get such a chance, Painter said: "A little bit."I was in the Academy at the time and you kind of think about it but you don't want to get ahead of yourself at that age."I was just taking it as little stages rather than thinking I would play against Tigers at some point."But it is crazy and it is a big shock when you come into the system in your first year, but then you just get used to it."All the lads are awesome and you just try to become part of the furniture."