Dylan Hartley insists Northampton's status as credible Heineken Cup title challengers was forged in the second tier of English rugby.
Wildly contrasting fortunes marked the 2006-2007 season as just a week after succumbing to Wasps in the semi-finals of Europe, Saints were relegated to the old National One. Refusing to despair at the loss of their position in the lucrative Aviva Premiership, they embarked on an overhaul of the club that Hartley insists is now paying dividends.
"I was there before we went down and the personnel changes that took place," said the 24-year-old. "I'm not saying that the previous people were bad or good, it was just a fresh start. Everything was fresh."
The most crucial change was the arrival of Jim Mallinder as director of rugby in June 2007 and his progress at Franklin's Gardens has seen him touted as a future England coach.
Hartley, the club captain and England hooker, believes Saints owe their emergence as a genuine force in Europe to the rebuilding program instigated by relegation.
He continued: "Big Jim (Mallinder) came in with his new set-up of Dorian West, Paul Grayson and Nick Johnson.
"This year again we have signed four or five more young English lads - talked about lads who want to come and play for us. Getting relegated was a good thing. At the time it was really horrible but it gave us a year to start all over again.
"That was a good year - we had some big six-hour bus journeys and you learn a lot about the squad at times like that. It brought the squad together and made us tighter. Over the last two years we have built on that.
"We have won silverware in each year in the Amlin Challenge Cup and the LV= Cup. They're not the Heineken Cup or the Premiership but at least we've been winning something. We must keep progressing and right now it's about winning games. Come the business end of the season, we will see where we are.
"We are definitely on the up. The club, the team, the whole town - the Cobblers (Northampton Town) are on the up. They beat Liverpool the other night! Northampton is a good place to be in sporting terms now!"