Former Adademy coach Seely’s pride at progress of Saints star Lawes
Grant Seely lets out a slight giggle when asked for his recollections of the first time he saw Courtney Lawes in action.
“It was a funny one with Courtney,” explains Seely, a former Northampton forward who spent four and a half years as an Academy coach at the club.
“On my first assignment I went to watch East Midlands Under 18s against Oundle School and young Courtney was one playing.
“He was one of the first lads we picked up and 18 months later he was playing for Saints and two years after that he was playing for England.
“From our very first assignment we picked up this lad out of the blue and it was a massive thing for us.”
But the first viewing of Lawes did not necessarily show he would be the success story he has become.
Seely, who ended his 19-year association with Saints in July, 2010, said: “Bless him, he wasn’t as co-ordinated as he is now,”
“He’s obviously gone through a huge growth spurt.
“He just did a couple of things in that trial game, his physicality mainly that you didn’t see too often.
“What you’re looking for in a second row is obviously height and obviously the boy is 6ft 7in.
“James Cannon was already in the Academy at that stage but Courtney had the obvious physical presence to have a look in and it was a huge amount of work from us and the physios at the time to try to get his body in some sort of condition over the next few years to produce the athlete he is now.
“He’s gone from strength to strength, which is great news.”
Seely and his fellow Academy coaches at the time, Rob Hunter and Ali Hepher, took in four games in which Lawes was involved in before attempting to bring him into the Saints set up.
They sat down with his parents, explaining why the Hackney-born youngster should make the move into the arms of Northampton and the rest, as they say, is history.
“Myself, Ali and Rob grew the network in those days and just got as many games as we could to watch and got the right kids in,” says Seely.
“That’s the whole point of it. If you’ve got the right kids in to work with it’s like anything in life, if you’ve got the right people you’ll go far with it.”
Lofty lock Lawes, raised a stone’s throw from Franklin’s Gardens in Jimmy’s End, was certainly the right person for Saints.
He made his debut in a National League One game against Esher in the 2007/08 season and has gone on to play 78 times for his hometown club.
He has also won a hugely impressive 22 England caps in the process, and yet his best years are seemingly still yet to come.
Last weekend, he continued his return to form, helping crush the Ospreys with a typically titanic display in a 27-16 victory in the Heineken Cup clash at the Gardens.
Another man (and another Academy product) who played a starring role in that game was Alex Waller, the 23-year-old prop who took Lions tighthead prop Adam Jones to task in the scrum.
And that was of particular satisfaction to Seely, who played a key role in moulding Waller into a front row forward.
“When Alex came to us he was a lower sixth boy, 16, 17, he as a back rower,” explains Seely, himself a product of the Northampton youth system.
“I remember having a discussion with him, he hadn’t impressed and we told him to go away and come through as a prop not a back row.
“Sure enough he went away for weeks and months and worked his way back into the Academy when he was still at school as a prop.
“From then on he’s gone from strength to strength and it’s a good example of someone who’s dealt with disappointment in a good way.
“He has got his head down and deserves to be where he is now. It’s good to see. He’s a really nice lad.”
As Seely states, Waller went away and built himself up in the gym, building himself a career in the process.
His determination has driven him into the Saints first team squad and after shadowing the likes of Soane Tonga’uiha and, this season, Alex Corbisiero, he is starting to step into the light.
And Seely couldn’t be happier for his former charge, whose brother Ethan is also making positive moves in the senior setup.
“Alex is a top lad,” Seely added. “He’s very down to earth, a local boy, been in and out of the Saints for many years and you get an extra 20 per cent with these boys who are local lads.
“I know how much it means to him from speaking to his parents on and off over the years. He’s delighted to be where he is and his brother, Ethan, is some sort of prospect as well.
“I know how much it meant to Alex to get his first full-time contract and Ethan, who was just coming into the Academy when I was leaving, seems to be following in his footsteps.
“He’s another good prospect and he’s obviously trying to emulate what his brother’s doing. They’re different animals but they’re a credit to the club and their family.”
Lawes and the Waller brothers are but a few fruits of Seely and Co’s labours at Saints, with England Under 20s prospects Alex Day, Tom Stephenson and Danny Hobbs-Awoyemi among the others to have been brought through.
“Without blowing your own trumpet, it’s rewarding to see how many guys have come through the Academy,” said Seely.
“I had four years working there as a coach and I’d like to think we’d got the right players in the right programme to get them to come through at Saints.
“It’s really rewarding to see them put the Saints shirt on Saturdays, definitely.”
And for many of the youngsters Seely helped to steer on the road to the Saints first-team, it seems there will be plenty more successful Saturdays ahead.