Jim Lyon – Swapping Towers should not damage memories of Tiny

Northamptonshire Telegraph's sports writers Jon Dunham, Jim Lyon and Alec Swann.
Northamptonshire Telegraph's sports writers Jon Dunham, Jim Lyon and Alec Swann.

So farewell then, Tiny.

The least surprising announcement in rugby was made this week when Soane Tonga’uiha confirmed he was leaving Saints and joining Racing Metro.

I now hope the good folk of Northamptonshire give his decision the respect it deserves. I am sure they will.

For seven years he has been a pivotal part of a competitive Northampton side.

He has been one of the most reliable performers and a rock around which so much successful rugby has been based.

As Jim Mallinder said: “He has shown consistency and durability in one of the toughest positions on the field and will go down as one of the best props to play for the club, not least with 200-plus appearances under his belt.”

But the on-pitch contribution is only a part of his charm.

The supporters immediately took him to their hearts, and he seemed to take them to his.

The big man with a big smile is more than just a player for the Northampton rugby club, he is a part of the Northamptonshire community.

At 6ft 3in and nearly 21st you are always going to stand out a bit, but he became a recognisable figure even to those who are not Saints fans.

My wife, rarely known for her sporting knowledge, returned from the butcher’s shop one day saying she had just seen “Tonga’wotsit” in the queue.

And a friend of mine told of how he saw the big Tongan in town and was embarrassed at the rather overly-chummy ‘hello’ he offered him.

He need not have worried as the response was equally amiable.

Other friends of ours, however, had a less enjoyable encounter with him.

But that was their misfortune to be the ones who landed seats right behind the big man when he took his family to the pantomime.

So many people around here have a story to tell about him that it is fair to say, when he heads to Paris in the summer, he will leave behind more memories than just those of a big presence in the scrum and some bulldozing runs in the loose.

And I think most would forgive him swapping Express Lift for Eiffel at this stage in his life and his career.

It will certainly be more palatable than if the move to Watford had gone through.

It is not the worst thing that could happen to Saints either.

Things need to, and will, change on the pitch.

Some new blood is coming in and the club is moving on.

But, before the goodbyes, both club and player will want to make the most of their remaining time together.

And a bit of silverware would certainly make for a nice leaving present.