Lawes is leaving Northampton Saints after a stellar career at Franklin's Gardens

For a while it looked like Courtney Lawes would finish as a one-club man.  

They are now an all-too rare commodity in a modern game where opportunities abound and loyalty is not always rewarded on both sides of the coin. Forward Lawes has been synonymous with Northampton Saints ever since his first game as a gangly teenager way back in 2007 and he signed off in style by winning the Gallagher Premiership Rugby final against Bath in his final outing.

Related: Watch Beno Obano red card shock Bath early in Premiership final v Northampton Saints

A Premiership winner in 2014, Lawes made it clear he wanted to end his career having only played for Saints – who did their best to make it happen – but eventually the offer of a bumper deal with Brive in France’s Pro D2 proved too good to turn down. 

Lawes says it will be “transformational” for his family. Even the most ardent fan will not begrudge such a loyal servant a few seasons in the sun, such is the esteem he is held in by the Shoe Army. 

“It’s great for him to finally take some time off for him and his family and have a new chapter, because he’s been an amazing servant for the club,” says fly-half Fin Smith. “He deserves every euro he’s going to get paid over the next couple of years.

“The gap he’s going to leave is monumental. He’s the best player I’ve ever played with. I think everyone that’s played with him would probably say the same. His style, maybe only one or two more in the world can do what he does in Peter O’Mahony and Pieter-Steph du Toit. So in terms of trying to replace him, I think it’s not that feasible.”

It’s an old rugby cliché to keep your body on fire but head in the freezer and Lawes’s on-field ferocity teamed with his laid-back demeanour typifies this. 

Rugby World recently visited Saints’ training ground, where we were treated to the sight of Lawes bashing blokes before he jumped on his electric scooter to the canteen. Saving his legs. How cool?! 

“He’s extremely calm in everything he does,” says back-row colleague Lewis Ludlam. “He’s probably the most laid-back professional you’ll ever meet in terms of off the pitch. He likes to keep himself very relaxed. 

“However, every day he’s been in for the last ten years he’s come in with the attitude to get better.”

Lawes made his name as a hard-hitter, famed for bone-rattling tackles. He put Le Crunch into England v France in 2015. Jules Plisson’s ribcage has only just recovered from that huge collision. 

But perhaps his greatest skill has been becoming the all-Court genius he is today. “He’s developed his game into a ball-player, his work off the ball is unbelievable and he’s a turnover specialist – one of the highest in the team at the minute,” adds Ludlam.  

“He’s someone who’s developed his game no end and kept adding loads of strings to his bow. For him to instil that knowledge and understand you’ve got to keep adding bits to your game, I think has been really good for me as well.”

Ludlam is another man crossing the Channel and he will miss the confidence that having Lawes alongside provides.

“Just to be able to look across before a game and see one of the greatest, in my opinion, that’s ever played the game next to you is a massive boost for the boys. He’ll be a big loss for the club.”

He has captained club and country with distinction but Lawes has always let his actions do the talking. “Courtney will speak when it’s the right time for him to speak,” says his old Saints team-mate turned director of rugby Phil Dowson. 

“He’s very, very good at not wasting words. That holds massive value in the group. I can literally tell you when it’s a big game because Courtney is front and centre giving it stacks. As always, Courts’s timing is impeccable.”

This article first appeared in the June 2024 issue of Rugby World

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