A belated Saintly salute for heroes Foden and Haywood
I haven’t missed the boat, in fact I caught the flight.
That is why this article has been written so long after the events that inspired it.
Going away during a season never feels ideal, and only unavoidable occurrences prompt it.
When you cover every Saintly event and game in every roller coaster season, you feel like you’ve missed so much when you’re on the sidelines (or in this case, the ultimate party scene).
And while I was away, for approximately a week, I did indeed miss so much, including two more superb Saints wins.
Technically, I am still on holiday, though back in the UK now.
But I couldn’t let two big moments slip through the net without writing about them.
Because while I was away celebrating, two men so key in the recent history of this storied black, green and gold club were enjoying toasts of their own.
These are two players who I have seen grow into stars during more than 12 years of writing for this publication.
They are men who were still in their rugby infancy when they made their way into the Saints team.
But they are men who became absolutely crucial to the success the club was able to achieve.
The first, Ben Foden, has recently announced his retirement from rugby, calling time on a glittering career.
In recent years, his media profile has taken centre stage, with appearances on A League Of Their Own and Dancing On Ice catching the eye.
Foden has been strutting his on-field stuff in New York, spending the final years of his time in the game in the city that never sleeps.
But it was during his time at Saints that he created the most dream moments.
Because this was where he evolved from a player searching for direction - Foden initially set his signs on scrum-half after arriving from Sale Sharks - to one of the world’s finest full-backs.
He became England’s 15, a player so crucial for club and country.
Foden’s trajectory mirrored that of Saints, going from a player finding his way in the Premiership to an eventual title winner.
He struck up a symbiotic partnership with Chris Ashton before the wing left for Saracens, with the pair coming so close to helping Saints conquer Europe.
Only a sobering second half against Leinster stopped Foden, Ashton and Co from lifting the Heineken Cup in Cardiff.
Foden was simply breathtaking in that first 40 minutes, with both his razor-sharp attacking game and elite last-gasp defending showing up on the big stage.
He grabbed a score and produced a stunning tackle on Brian O’Driscoll that will live long in the memory.
The only disappointment was that the display didn’t yield glory.
But eventually, the major trophy did arrive, with Foden scoring in the Premiership final of 2014.
It was such a sweet moment, putting to bed the miserable memories of the previous year, when Foden had scored in the showpiece loss to Leicester Tigers.
And it once again emphasised how Foden was a man for the main stage.
As he has off the field, Foden thrived when the spotlight was on him.
He would always deliver when the cameras were pointed in his direction.
The man nicknamed ‘Pops’, because he once auditioned for Pop Idol, always hit the high notes at Saints.
And he will forever be one of the club’s most important and most talented full-backs.
Now, on to a player in a very different position who has a very different public profile.
Mike Haywood is one of the most understated and underrated men in Saints history.
Having been a club-mate to Dylan Hartley, who like Foden had a big media presence, Haywood’s contribution so often flew under the radar nationally.
But within the corridors of the Gardens what he has delivered has never been in doubt.
Haywood hit 250 appearances in the recent win against Bristol Bears.
And though he has rarely taken the limelight during that time, what he has delivered has been extremely noteworthy.
Haywood has been at Saints through thick and thin, going from Academy boy to first-team man.
When Hartley was away or sidelined for other reasons, Haywood would step up.
It’s easy to forget that Magic Mike (he is a dab hand at magic tricks) started both finals in 2014, helping Saints to a sensational Premiership and Challenge Cup double.
Then, as the club’s fortunes started to change, he was named in the Premiership dream team of 2015/16 following the finest of campaigns in the Saints No.2 shirt.
Haywood has so often stood up to be counted.
He has had chances to exit Saints but he is a true one-club man, someone every team would cherish.
And though he may not get the acclaim of a Foden or a Hartley, he has been no less valuable.
So here’s to you Messrs Foden and Haywood.
Thanks for what you’ve done and, in the case of the latter, continue to do.
It has been a pleasure to write about your achievements.