Clark: Heineken Cup final defeat was one of my biggest disappointments

BIG DISAPPOINTMENT - Saints were left shell-shocked by Leinster's second-half comeback in Cardiff (Picture: Kirsty Edmonds)
BIG DISAPPOINTMENT - Saints were left shell-shocked by Leinster's second-half comeback in Cardiff (Picture: Kirsty Edmonds)

Calum Clark admits Saints’ Heineken Cup final defeat to Leinster in 2011 was one of the biggest disappointments of his career to date.

The flanker started at the Millennium Stadium as Northampton roared into a 22-6 half-time lead before seeing their dreams crushed in a brutal second-half showing from the Irish side, who won 33-22.

The teams meet in a competitive fixture for the first time since that day in Cardiff at Franklin’s Gardens on Saturday evening.

Clark will hope to make an impact from the bench in that fixture and look to secure happier memories than the ones he has from two and a half years ago.
“I don’t think you forget those things,” said Clark, when asked about the events at the Millennium Stadium. “But we’ve got a different squad, they’ve got different players and two and a half years is quite a long time.
 “You can’t forget the lessons you’ve learned and how important playing in that final was.

“It was still one of my biggest disappointments in rugby and that certainly won’t change.”

And he added: “It’s fair to say they weren’t expecting us to come out and play that way but what it does show is that when they gathered themselves and regrouped just what a quality side they are.

“It was great of them to get back in the game and perform the way they did. It was just a shame they performed too well for us.”

But plenty of water has passed under the bridge since then, and Saints have some more positive Heineken Cup experiences to draw on ahead of this weekend’s game.

One of those is the win at Ulster last December, when Saints gritted it out to claim a 10-9 victory against all the odds.

It was a huge turnaround after Northampton had been beaten 25-6 at the Gardens a week earlier.

And Clark, who started in the second row in the brilliant Belfast show, said: “We’d had a proper kicking the week before and said after we were going to Ulster to win.
“We set that belief in early doors and we did the job in a place where rarely teams go and win. It was a great memory and you don’t forget nights like those, either.”

So have Saints taken elements of the build-up to that game and put it into practice ahead of this week’s encounter?

“I think that was a one-off circumstance,” said Clark. “We’d had a good kicking and the emotional change was on another level.

“They were perhaps thinking they were going to walk over us again, so that was a unique thing and you don’t really see that all the time.

“But rugby’s a funny game and lots of things can happen so we’ll see.”

Saints have come a long way since that win in Belfast, reaching their first Premiership final in May and enjoying a slick start to this campaign.

And Clark feels he and his team-mates have matured massively during the past 12 months.

“It think we have grown as a team and it’s really important we keep moving forward and keep making strides,” said the 24-year-old.

“Internally, we definitely think that’s happening.”