Premiership Relegation helped Saints : Hartley

New Zealand born England international hooker Dylan Hartley has insisted that Northampton Saints benefited from being relegated into the second tier of English rugby.

Northampton Saints were dropped from the Premiership but bounced straight back the following season and are now one of the Premiership and England’s ‘big guns’.

Hartley says that Northampton’s status as credible Heineken Cup title challengers was forged when the team was relegated two seasons ago.

During the 2006-2007 season Saints went from being in the Heineken Cup Semi-finals one week to being relegated to the old National One the next week.

Once they were relegated Saints embarked on an overhaul of the club that Hartley insists is now paying dividends.

“I was there before we went down and the personnel changes that took place,” the 24-year-old told the Press Association.

“I’m not saying that the previous people were bad or good, it was just a fresh start. Everything was fresh.”

Possibly the biggest change came with Jim Mallinder’s arrival and his appointment as director of rugby in June 2007 and his success at Franklin’s Gardens has seen his name being linked with a future job as England coach.

Kiwi Hartley is the club captain and England hooker and believes that Saints owe their emergence as a genuine force in Europe to the rebuilding program which was instigated by relegation.

He continued: “Big Jim (Mallinder) came in with his new set-up of Dorian West, Paul Grayson and Nick Johnson.

“This year again we have signed four or five more young English lads – talked about lads who want to come and play for us. Getting relegated was a good thing. At the time it was really horrible but it gave us a year to start all over again.

“That was a good year – we had some big six-hour bus journeys and you learn a lot about the squad at times like that. It brought the squad together and made us tighter. Over the last two years we have built on that.

“We have won silverware in each year in the Amlin Challenge Cup and the Anglo Welsh LV= Cup. They’re not the Heineken Cup or the Premiership but at least we’ve been winning something. We must keep progressing and right now it’s about winning games.”

“Come the business end of the season, we will see where we are.

“We are definitely on the up. The club, the team, the whole town – the Cobblers (Northampton Town) are on the up.”

” They beat Liverpool the other night! Northampton is a good place to be in sporting terms now!”

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