Reihana thrives on Thomond Park factor
People continue to gild the Thomond Park legend to this day.
"The crowd is no mere 16th man," said Northampton captain Dylan Hartley ahead of Saturday's Heineken Cup quarter-final in Limerick, "it's like a 17th, 18th and 19th man." Maybe it's best if Saints leave the team-talk to someone less melodramatic, say assistant coach Dorian West. "They've got a very noisy crowd," deadpanned the ex-police officer.
Munster have been beaten once on their own turf in 15 years of European competition, their marauding dogs of war seemingly umbilically linked to the fans they represent. "Desperate to play for that team and desperate to win for that team," says West, "players who stick together through thick and thin."
Yet Jim Mallinder's blossoming Saints side, the only English outfit left in the competition, knows Thomond Park can be stormed.
In January, they came within a whisker of winning a pool match there, failing to take advantage when Munster skipper Paul O'Connell was sin-binned. And in a Magners League match last week, fierce rivals Leinster pipped them 15-16.
So the Thomond thunder can be stolen and, according to Bruce Reihana, it can be bottled, fizzed up and exploded in the faces of the men in red. But then Bruce is "one of the old guys" and has seen it all before.
Reihana celebrates Northampton's LV= Cup triumph
"I don't feel intimidated now. Being an old fella, I've had quite a few of these occasions," said the former All Black, who joined Northampton in 2002.
"I use it to spur me on. I find it really exciting when the crowd goes nuts. That's what we've talked about this week, using that atmosphere to inspire and enthuse.
"We'll benefit from the last game [at Thomond Park]. I think the noise, the atmosphere and occasion got to some of the players, but this time we know what's coming - the ferocity of it, everyone on their feet, faces screaming at you, the emotion, so much passion. It seems like more than just support, it's like they're on the pitch as well."
Reihana and Co are on a roll. With 19 wins from their last 21 games, they claimed the LV= Cup with a thrilling win over Gloucester last month and are three points behind Guinness Premiership leaders Leicester with a game in hand.
Hardly surprising then that utility back Reihana, who experienced the dark days of relegation before Mallinder's arrival in 2007 got Saints marching again, senses something special is brewing at Franklin's Gardens.
"There certainly is," says the 33-year-old, who lifted the Challenge Cup for Saints last season. "It's the best squad I've been involved with and the most tight-knit. Jim Mallinder's got the balance right, the mix between old and young. Sometimes you have egos, but not here. Everyone's pushing for the team. It's very unique."
Two of the youngsters are full-back Ben Foden and wing Chris Ashton, both now England internationals. But it's in the boiler room where most of the damage is likely to be done, with a creaking Munster front row pitted against Scotland's Euan Murray, England hooker Hartley and Tongan wrecking ball Soane Tonga'uiha.
"We need to have an all-round game... [but] the scrum is always an area we look to dominate the opposition in," said West. "We want to be on top in the scrum because that translates to the rest of your game."
With the encounter likely to be a blood and guts affair - "you play against other teams and feel bumped and bruised, but after the last game against Munster I felt battered" - Reihana believes scoring chances will be at a premium and therefore discipline will be key.
"You've got to take every opportunity you get, and you might only get one or two," said Reihana, a two-time Northampton player of the season.
"Both pool games we played against them were very, very hard-fought and very, very physical. It could easily come down to a penalty here and a yellow card there. We've got to be very disciplined, especially inside our own half because Ronan O'Gara can kick them from anywhere.
"It's a massive, massive task, but the belief in the squad is that we can do it. We've made huge strides this year to put ourselves in with a chance of winning three tournaments. If we don't grab hold of them, we'll feel like we've let ourselves down."
Rumble Munster at Thomond Park on Saturday and Reihana and his mates will make liars of thousands, for in years to come half of Northampton will say they were there.