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As a neologism, "bounce- backability" is associated with football and Crystal Palace's rocket scientist-turned-manager Ian Dowie. As a practice, the place to find it is rugby union.

The last two seasons have seen spectacular second-half-of-season revivals by Wasps and Leicester, while last year in France, Stade Français went from bottom to champions in a few months.

All three are clubs for whom the struggle, not the resurrection, was the shock. If they are to be emulated this season, Northampton are the obvious candidates.

Nine consecutive defeats took the Saints to the foot of the Zurich Premiership in November and cost director of rugby Alan Solomons his job. Under the new, as yet still temporary, coaching team of Budge Pountney and Paul Grayson, they have won consecutive Premiership matches, reached the Heineken European Cup quarter-finals and have a home Powergen Cup quarter-final with Leeds on Saturday.

The competition has yet to grab the imagination of Saints fans - there may be vacant seats for once at Franklin Gardens. But while Pountney is aware that league survival has to be the priority, both he and Grayson know what the Powergen can offer a struggling team. It is not just the chance of a trip to Twickenham for the fans with, hopefully, a happier outcome than their four previous domestic finals. Grayson says: "The great bonus is that winning takes you into the Heineken. Newcastle were 10th in the league but the first into the Heineken when they won the Cup last year."

That Leicester have been eliminated by Gloucester, and Wasps by carelessness over player eligibility, only serves to encourage the others. But Grayson warns: "Leeds will be just as aware of that, and of the way this offers [a way] into the Heineken, as we will. We've had two close games with them this season. They're a tough, competitive side and they'll come here expecting to win."

Other routes to Europe look much harder. That Heineken quarter-final is away to Toulouse, whence few travellers return. While, with nine games to go, they are only a couple of wins off a Zurich placing that would take them into the wildcard play-offs, Grayson is far more conscious of being only a single point off the bottom. "It is such a taxing league that we'll be happy if we can stay off the bottom and stay up."

Six wins in seven in all competitions - the defeat was at Toulouse - suggest a team heading in the right direction. Grayson says: "It hasn't been pretty, but we're winning by a few points where we were losing narrowly before."

The coaching duo have changed training and game plans. "There's much greater intensity about training and our game plan before wasn't sufficiently complex for the Premiership, so we were easy to defend against," says Grayson. The veteran outside-half denies the squad was divided under Solomons, who had imported several other South Africans. "There was no problem among the players", but he leaves no doubt that there was disaffection. "It was very hard for players who knew whatever they did, there was no place in the team and no future for them here. We've reintroduced competition and given everyone a chance."

Grayson, still sharing the number 10 shirt with Shane Drahm, knows about taking chances. He thought his international career was over, yet won a World Cup medal when others were injured and lost form while he continued in his effectively understated way, a reputation as a kicker concealing tactical sense and gifts as a distributor. Thoughtful and intelligent, he was always destined for coaching. "I just didn't expect that it would happen quite as soon," he says.

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