IF YOU are going to have a pop-star girlfriend, entertain ideas of launching a singing career and be a regular in the celebrity columns of national newspapers, you had better be a hell of a player.
Fortunately for Ben Foden, he is.
The Northampton Saints full-back heads into tomorrow’s Heineken Cup final against Leinster riding the crest of a wave after the finest season of his professional career, yet he is well aware it could end without a tangible reward. Leinster are the favourites due to their edge in experience, but Foden is firmly committed to the idea that the exuberance of youth will overcome that.
At just 25, Foden is now one of the senior members of a Northampton team that has an average age of just 26 and only one player over 30.International recognition has followed their success and five members of the Saints’ squad have played for England this season. Yet it was a bittersweet experience, for while Cardiff holds fond memories after Wales werecomfortably dispatched, England’s comprehensive defeat to Ireland ended their hopes of a Grand Slam.
Foden makes it clear that club ties are rather different to international experiences, but if Northampton do win this weekend, you feel that the lesson Ireland taught Martin Johnson’s men in Dublin could come back to haunt Leinster in Cardiff.
“We will definitely look to impose ourselves on the game more than England did,” said Foden. “There were different things on the line that day, but while Ireland came out with the nothing to lose attitude, England went out there to strangle the game.
“We allowed them to play and then we were chasing the game, which was difficult. But on the weekend it will be at a neutral venue with equal fans and it will be a case of whoever steps up on the day.
“But we want to get good first phase ball so we can open the wide channels and create havoc. It will be the same for Leinster, though, as they will look to get the ball into the channels and to Brian O’Driscoll.
“Leinster have a mobile back row and it should be a great spectacle. Both teams ooze class and it will be on a knife-edge.”
And as Foden is all too well aware, few players ooze class more than O’Driscoll. The former Sale youngster had the perfect view for the centre’s record 25th Six Nations try in Dublin, and his admiration for the 32-year-old — who Northampton are convinced will be fit for Saturday — remains undimmed.
“I always admired Brian, and I still admire him today,” adds Foden. “He is doing great things for Ireland and Leinster, and has won Six Nations, Heineken Cups and Magners Leagues, as well as being on Lions tours and doing great things there.
“Someone like him goes down in the history books as one of the all-time greats. Obviously they are playing a few mind games at themoment over whether he will play or not, but I want him to play as I want Leinster to field their strongest team, and if we win I don’t want people making excuses, saying ‘they missed this player’. I want it to be our best 15 against their best 15, and to battle it out so that if we are crowned champions we have done it the right way.”
And Northampton have done most things the right way in recent years. Since being promoted back to the Premiership in 2008 they have progressed every year with a relatively settled squad, and for Foden victory this weekend would simply be the next step on an inexorable upward curve.
“We do need a major statement about what this club is all about, which is winning major silverware and reaching major finals,” he said.
“This is a great opportunity for us as a team, and for myself it is the only major trophy I haven’t won, as I won the Premiership with Sale and the LV Cup and European Challenge (now Amlin) with Saints. If I win this I can retire!
“As a team we have progressed every year, and we are on the verge of something special. We know we have to take it with both hands.”
But what about Foden’s other half, Una Healy of pop band The Saturdays? Clashes with Irish sides has caused a problem with Co Tipperary born Healy, but as her family are die-hard Munster fans there should be no problem this weekend.
“They are all Munster, so there is a hatred for Leinster,” laughs Foden.
“Una isn’t a Dublin girl so her loyalties aren’t divided, they lie with me and Northampton. She is a bit more patriotic when it comes to Ireland but her family are all Saints fans this weekend.”
So, hand on heart, does Foden think his side will this weekend?
“It will come down to who takes their chances. We are going into the game as underdogs, and we will accept that tag, but we think we’ll steal the trophy and sneak out the back door.”
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