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Thursday, 10 October, 2002, 09:17 GMT 10:17 UK
Grayson backs Saints' hopes
Northampton Saints celebrate after beating Munster 9-6 in 2000
Saints beat Leicester to the title of European champions

When you think of East Midlands' clubs who have scaled the heights in Europe, defending champions Leicester immediately spring to mind.

But the Tigers are not the only Heineken Cup winners to hail from one of the heartlands of English rugby.

Near-neighbours Northampton may have to live in the Tigers' shadow much of the time, but they beat their illustrious rivals to European glory by a year.

In 2000 the Saints marched on Twickenham and claimed a nail-biting win against Munster as they became the second English club to claim the title of Europe's best.

All the passion and ferocity in our final which pitched England against Ireland was like playing in the Six Nations
Northampton star
Paul Grayson

Northampton followed in the footsteps of Bath thanks to the boot of former England fly-half Paul Grayson.

He kicked three penalties as the Saints beat Munster 9-6 in front of 68,000 fans at Twickenham.

But the veteran number 10 is circumspect about Northampton's chances of a repeat performance this season.

"We've a new squad and a new coach, we're making developments and obviously one of our goals is to do well in this competition," Grayson told BBC Sport Online.

"But everybody we play we haven't played against this year, so you only find out how good you are once you get into it.

"We haven't played well yet this season, but we've managed to win four out of six so we're heading in the right direction.

Paul Grayson's unerring boot sends Northampton to victory over Munster in 2000
Grayson kicked Saints to victory in 2000

"The disappointing thing is that we can be quite so up and down and follow a good performance by an abject one, and that's something that (coach) Wayne Smith is trying to find a solution to.

"If we can keep players fit and work hard then hopefully we'll do well."

However Northampton fare in Europe this year, Grayson is delighted to be taking part in such an exciting competition.

"We've got trips to Cardiff and Ulster and while the game's modern and professional, the history and heritage of those places suddenly comes to the fore," said the Chorley-born player.

"Records like they haven't lost here for this many years, or they beat this touring team - things like that are fantastic.

"It digs up all the history of the game and yet it's packaged and contested in a fully professional environment."

We've won it and our supporters would love us to do it again
Paul Grayson

Northampton created some of their own history during their successful campaign in the 1999/2000 season, and Grayson loved bringing success to the passionate Saints fans.

"All the passion and ferocity in our final, which pitched England against Ireland, was like playing in the Six Nations," he said.

"But the extra-special flavour was that it was just Northampton - our team, our town, our people.

"It's the people you talk to in the shop, the people who say congratulations or hard luck after the weekend when you're walking down the street.

"It's their big day out but it's on a stage that is equivalent to the Six Nations or the World Cup. It's magnificent."

Saints may not be the favourites for the Heineken Cup, but they have been there before and know what is required to succeed on the European stage.

"The cup presents a massive challenge for us," said Grayson.

Special affinity

"We've got a lot to work on but I guess you'll know after stage one if you're in with a shout or not.

"Northampton has a special affinity with it obviously, because we've won it, and our supporters would love us to do it again."

With Leicester looking vulnerable, Northampton are among the pack in with a chance of winning the 2003 Heineken Cup.

And Grayson for one would be more than happy if the Tigers had to send the big silver trophy the 40-odd miles down the M1 to Franklin's Gardens next May.

BBC Sport's Anthony Bartram
"The season's been a bit bumpy so far"

Heineken Cup

Parker Pen Cup


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