Lawes so impressed with 'switched on' Saints Academy

Courtney Lawes is looking forward to Saints' clash with Clermont Auvergne (picture: Kirsty Edmonds)
Courtney Lawes is looking forward to Saints' clash with Clermont Auvergne (picture: Kirsty Edmonds)

There was a time when the production line at Saints seemed to stall.

Players like Paul Diggin and Courtney Lawes were held up as role models as the club tried to bring through some of its own.

But those days when there were a lack of successful Academy graduates have certainly been and gone.

Because the Saints Academy has probably never been in better health.

In fact, when you look at the first-team matchday squads this season, a good proportion of them are made up by players who have been nurtured in Northampton.

And not only that, players like Ehren Painter, Fraser Dingwall and James Grayson have also shown their capabilities outside of the corridors of Franklin's Gardens.

Saints are now not only keen to include their young stars, they are ready to build their squad around them.

The fact that the majority of new contracts awarded this season have gone to recent Academy graduates tells you all you need to know.

The likes of Lewis Ludlam, Dingwall, Grayson and many more have signed new deals to stay at their boyhood club.

And Lawes, who also penned a fresh contract earlier this season, has been looking on with plenty of pride and excitement when it comes to the talent the Academy is churning out.

"The Academy as a whole has been really switched on and motivated this year," Lawes said.

"It's brilliant because we'll have some good players come out of that Academy.

"It's definitely changed a lot, Chris Boyd's got a good handle on things and this season we've had a bunch of good youngsters come through. It's paying dividends.

"The likes of Luds is going to be a great player, especially as he gets older and a bit bigger.

"He's going to be great for us and Dingers has just turned 19 so he's another one with a hell of a future."

Lawes made his Saints debut in National League One during the 2007/08 season, and things have certainly changed a lot since then.

"Back when I was in the Academy we were barely even part of the team," said the England and British & Irish Lions lock,who turns 30 next month.

"It's much better now they're brought in and shown the ropes straight away.

"It makes a big difference to get chances at a young age, and the experience they're picking up now is going to help a lot."

Next up for Lawes and Co is a huge Challenge Cup test at Clermont Auvergne on Saturday night.

Saints have never won at Clermont, with memories of European disappointments at Stade Marcel Michelin still in the memory of Lawes.

But he can't wait to take on the Top 14 table-toppers.

"I'm really looking forward to it," he said.

"It's a good challenge for us and we'll see how far we've come since the last time we played them (Saints lost 41-20 at home to Clermont in October).

"It's very tough over there - I haven't won there yet.

"They're a big team, they're a very good team so it will be a good game."

If Saints are to spring a surprise in France on Saturday night, they will need Lawes to be at his bulldozing best.

He has been struggling with a back injury this season but believes those issues are now behind him.

"A bit ropey," said Lawes, when asked how he feels his form has been during the current campaign.

"I've had a pretty disjointed season with this back problem and not being able to get over it as quickly as I'd hoped.

"But I'm starting to return to form now so that's the main thing.

"I just need to keep pushing it. You get ups and you get downs, it's just about pushing through it."

The season has been a frustrating one for Saints, who sit ninth in the Gallagher Premiership and second in their Challenge Cup pool, behind blemish-free Clermont.

"It's been pretty mixed - some weeks real good and some weeks not the best," Lawes said.

"We just need to find a place where we're real comfortable and we'll be able to do some good things this season."