Painter eager to follow in the footsteps of Ma'afu and Co at Saints
Ehren Painter grew up watching Salesi Ma'afu and Co smash scrums for Saints.
Now the 22-year-old prop is hoping he and his fellow front rowers can follow in the footsteps of the title-winning team at Franklin's Gardens.
Ma'afu was Saints' first choice tighthead when they delivered a Premiership and Challenge Cup double at the end of a sensational 2013/14 season.
Painter says the Australian prop was someone he admired and is eager to enjoy similar scrum success during his Saints career.
"I started really watching in 2014 and Salesi was the guy I loved watching, along with Sue (Alex Waller) and Corbs (Alex Corbisiero)," Painter said.
"They were really good and that's exactly where we want to be - we want to be remembered as a front row like those boys are remembered as well as the likes of Mooj (Brian Mujati) and Soane (Tonga'uiha)."
Painter is certainly starting to make his mark in the first team, with Saints having really stepped things up in the scrum in recent months.
And the Academy product said: "It’s been a really competitive last couple of months and coming in after Franksy (Owen Franks) went out obviously builds up a lot of pressure to take that opportunity.
“It’s about making sure there isn’t any drop in standards and I felt like I had to perform, support the boys and support Hilly (Paul Hill) with the workload because he’s been in great form.
“I felt like I needed to up my game to catch up with those boys.”
Painter and Hill have been sharing the workload in a precise way at times, with the props having a half each in some recent matches.
“We realise Franksy’s injury has left a bit of a hole and it’s about making sure we share the load,” said Painter, who has racked up 45 first-team appearances so far.
“Also, the coaches were cautious of my lack of game time so they slowly built me back up.
“I think it’s great because we can go hard for 40 minutes and then the person on the bench feels like he has got a good amount of time to make a difference.
“I’ve enjoyed it but I’m not sure how long we’ll keep doing that.”
Painter, as he did during a memorable win at Leicester in April 2018, has been a shining light as a replacement at times.
But it hasn’t all been plain sailing for him this season, with the former England Under-20s tighthead being penalised for a knock-on in the final seconds at Bristol back in December.
That cost Saints the game as the Bears slotted the penalty to secure a dramatic 18-17 win at Ashton Gate.
And though he didn’t feel the call was justified, Painter admits it was a really tough personal experience.
“It was my first probably big infringement that I could think of and I didn’t think it was justified in the slightest, but that’s what happens in rugby sometimes,” said the 22-year-old.
“I was just gutted because it was a game we absolutely should have won and we needed just to hang in there for the last five minutes.
“We’d had plenty of opportunities to put that game to bed and we didn’t take them, but I was gutted, I felt like I’d let the boys down and the loss was on me.
“I feel like I’ve built up quite a resilience because as front rowers we get penalised all the time so that helped me get over it and think about it objectively.
“I realised that I was unfortunate but I did what I thought was best and it just so happened that the referee deemed it wrong.
“I kept telling myself that my intention was to tackle rather than knock the ball on and I’m not sure what would have even happened if I’d caught the ball or tried to go for it.
“I tried to tackle Yann Thomas and as long as you know what you’re doing is by the law and that’s not how the referee deems it, everyone is human - no one gets it right all the time.”