Too little too late for fallen Saints

It’s all over. Despite notching up a brave 27-22 win over London Irish at Franklin’s Gardens on Saturday, Northampton Saints have been banished to the lower leagues after ending the season at the foot of the Guinness Premiership table.

Saints began the afternoon one point below 11th place Worcester and needed the Warriors to lose against Saracens at Sixways to give themselves a chance of staying up.

But John Brain’s side upset the Premiership’s form team 22-7 to safeguard their own place in the top flight and consign Saints, who were also relegated in 1995, to a season in National Division One.

Northampton chairman Keith Barwell opened his programme notes with an apology to fans for the club’s predicament and promised a major review would begin on Monday.

Barwell wrote: “We cannot continue the way we are. We crave success on the park and we need a coaching structure and a playing culture that can provide that.”

He also pleaded with fans to renew their season tickets but even the most loyal supporters will have found their patience tested by a dismal season at Franklin’s Gardens.

Ravaged by injury, Saints had failed to win on home soil in 2007 until today with only their impressive march to the Heineken Cup semi-finals alleviating the misery of a nightmare league campaign.

Reports of a dressing room rift and training ground bust-ups pointed to a club in turmoil and despite recent claims by head coach Paul Grayson the squad was united following clear the air talks, their fate was no longer in their own hands.

Against Irish they did everything possible to aid their cause with Bruce Reihana, who also kicked 12 points, Sean Lamont and Mark Robinson running in tries – but the result was ultimately of no consequence.

Shaking off the fatigue of their bruising European defeat to Wasps six days ago, they overcame a lively Exiles outfit that saw Topsy Ojo and Seilala Mapusua score thrilling tries.

Irish entered the match knowing they would finish their Premiership season in sixth place, regardless of today’s outcome.

But with Justin Bishop, Riki Flutey, Neal Hatley, Olivier Magne and Richie Rees playing their last game for the club, they were desperate to end the season on a winning note.

Doubts over their motivation at Franklin’s Gardens were immediately dispelled as they attacked from the kick off with only a forward pass to Bishop preventing them from scoring.

The conditions were perfect for running the ball and Irish’s ambition could not be contained in the fourth minute when Riki Flutey hit the line and passed to Ojo.

Ojo, receiving the ball on the 10-metre line, weaved his way to the whitewash with the help of some shoddy defence, leaving a trail of tacklers in his wake.

Nils Mordt added the conversion and Saints’ nervy opening continued when indecisive running and good tackling from Irish sent them backwards.

But they began to settle and their play became more composed, leading to the 15th minute try created and scored by their Kiwi contingent.

Carlos Spencer was sent racing through by a looping pass from Mark Robinson and he picked out Reihana at long range with the skipper stepping inside Bishop before crossing.

Reihana converted his own try and then added a penalty but Irish struck back with a beautifully-worked 22nd minute try finished by Mapusua.

The move was started inside the 22 by Sailosi Tagicakibau with intelligent running and a dummy from the impressive Bishop doing the real damage, handing Mapusua an easy try in the corner.

Mordt missed the conversion and then a penalty, prompting Irish to give up on kicking for goal in favour of aiming for touch with the visitors entering half-time 12-10 ahead.

Mordt took advantage of a poor tackle from Robbie Kydd to pierce Saints’ defence shortly after the interval but Mapusua did not have the pace to reach his c

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