Northampton Saints icon Courtney Lawes aims for title farewell

Courtney Lawes was just not going to let go of the ball.

It was entirely fitting that it should be this iconic Northampton Saints player who would have the final say in their Premiership semi-final against Saracens.

In the final minute of the match, with Saracens trailing by just two points, nerves were shredded inside Franklin’s Gardens.

Sarries’ Theo Dan had the ball in his own 22, but it was Lawes who wrapped his big arms around man and ball.

The crowd knew at once. This was his town and his ground and Saracens were going nowhere. The final whistle sent Saints to Twickenham.

It is difficult to explain the depth of feeling between Lawes and Saints.

He is, of course, a local man. Although born in London, he is absolutely a product of Northampton, having moved to the town as a small child.

More than that, he is a product of St James, the part of town that is home to Franklin’s Gardens and gives the club its Saints nickname. His own childhood home is just a little more than the punt of a rugby ball away from the pitch.

The 35-year-old has become the modern embodiment of the club.

Saints were founded in 1880 in part to keep the working-class boys of the St James parish out of trouble. More than a century later, Lawes himself has spoken about his own working-class upbringing in Northampton and how these are “his people”.

Rugby union provided opportunities which might otherwise not have been available to him. He wants the game to be more accessible to all – it’s one of many subjects on which he has become increasingly outspoken over the years.

Lawes has increasingly embraced his status as a role model and talks about a future working with charities such as the Saints Foundation.

From tackler to jackler

The way Lawes has played the game over the years has further deepened the bond between him and the club’s supporters.

As a younger man, he was famous for the huge hits. Julien Tomas, Jules Plisson, Morgan Parra, Toby Flood, Charlie Hodgson – they all felt the full force of a Lawes tackle.

But Lawes had to adapt. He couldn’t continue to play with such ferocity and expect a long career.

So, to the relief of half-backs across the globe, he changed, moving into the back-row and becoming more of a ball-carrier and a jackler [the first arriving team-mate of a player making a tackle].

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