Louis Picamoles leaves Saints: Tom Vickers' view

Sometimes a supporter can play the role of a scorned partner when a player leaves their club.

Thursday, 1st June 2017, 5:00 pm
Updated Sunday, 4th June 2017, 9:28 pm
Louis Picamoles enjoyed a stellar season at Saints (picture: Kirsty Edmonds)

"Wasn't all that, mate", they tell their friends while having a pint at the pub.

But you won't hear any Saints supporter pretending that Louis Picamoles was anything less than exceptional during his time at Franklin's Gardens.

There is unlikely to be too much vitriol or bitterness towards the man nicknamed 'The King', who dragged the team to victory in several matches during the season gone by.

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Because although Picamoles penned a three-year deal, he couldn't predict just how successful his first year at Saints would be.

He couldn't predict that English training methods would help to elevate his game to a new level.

He couldn't predict that the FFR (French Rugby Federation) would be so desperate to get him back that they would help to finance a deal.

And he couldn't predict that his first professional club, Montpellier, would be the ones helping them to do that.

Make no mistake, if Montpellier hadn't come calling, Picamoles would have been happy to stay at Saints.

He has embraced life in England and enjoyed his time at Franklin's Gardens, as displayed in his impressive acceptance speech at Saints' end-of-season awards dinner.

But the lure of a return home, the eagerness of the FFR and Montpellier to get him back and the future happiness and financial security of his family had to come first.

Consequently, Saints, despite insisting they did not want to sell him, had to let him go.

It would have been no good trying to cling on to someone whose mind was elsewhere.

You could tell from Picamoles' final few games at the club that he was starting to think about the future.

His effort didn't drop, but he wasn't as inspirational as he had been in previous months.

Saints had to stand firm, stressing publicly that they were not willing to part with Picamoles.

But they will have known that if he was to go, they must get the best possible deal.

With Montpellier able to pay vast sums and English clubs without sugar daddies constantly having to stretch their limits to meet the ever-increasing salary cap, anything less than a firm stance would have been unacceptable.

Eventually, Saints got the deal they could 'reluctantly agree' to.

They allowed a wantaway 31-year-old - albeit a ridiculously good one - to leave in a bid to build their future.

So what does that future now hold?

Well, they have made it clear they will now go into the market in a bid to find a replacement for Picamoles, which, of course, is easier said than done, especially at this time of year.

There is a cogent desire to bring in another marquee player.

But should that player be a No.8?

Maybe not.

Because Saints already have a player in their ranks who has shown an ability to be a game-changing No.8.

It is just that his country have wanted him to play at seven, and so, in recent times, have his club.

Prior to Picamoles' arrival at the Gardens, Teimana Harrison held both the players' and supporters' player of the season gongs.

They came his way after a stunning 2015/16 season, which saw him star at No.8 on numerous occasions.

And, like Picamoles, his form was not solely recognised inside the corridors of the Gardens.

Harrison, like Picamoles, was named in the Premiership team of the season.

No.8 is a position he clearly thrives on, and one he openly admits he enjoys.

He gets the freedom to cause more carnage than in the six or seven shirt and his aggressive ball carrying ability often catches the eye.

So why not let him have a run at it - with new arrival from Bristol, Mitch Eadie, as a competitor - and, if possible, bring in a top-drawer flanker for the six or seven shirt?

Saints already have Tom Wood and Jamie Gibson as senior flankers, while Ben Nutley is always a good option and highly-rated youngster Lewis Ludlum will be expected to step up next season.

But if they can somehow find a way of bringing in a top-class operator on the flank - they could even look to buy a player out of their contract... - they would be well stocked once more.

Saints finished fifth with Harrison often at No.8 in the 2015/16 season and, with more experience under his belt, including at international level, he can help to carry them to greater heights next season.

That is not to say Saints won't miss Picamoles.

It would be sheer madness to suggest otherwise.

But it doesn't have to all be doom and gloom at the Gardens just yet.

The club will undergo a period of playing staff transition this summer, with stalwarts such as Calum Clark, Lee Dickson, George Pisi and James Wilson leaving.

There will be fresh faces such as Cobus Reinach, Piers Francis and Rob Horne.

And, it seems, there will be a Picamoles replacement, whoever he may be.

It will be a sea change, and one which supporters will hope can bring good times back to Northampton.

Eventually, fans will be able to reflect more fondly on what a mild-mannered (off the field) Frenchman brought to the club they love.

But for now, it is just a shame the inevitable happened and the big bucks from the Top 14 came calling.

Some have reacted by claiming this is a sign of rugby going down the same road as football.

"The game's gone," you may hear the outraged cry.

But let's not pretend it's the first time cash has called the tune.

Samu Manoa opted not to sign a new Saints deal in 2015 and switched to Toulon, who were offering eye-watering sums that he simply couldn't refuse.

The difference this time is that Picamoles still had two years of his deal to run.

But George North was also bought out of his contract when Saints wanted to sign him from the Scarlets in 2013.

North had a year remaining on his deal and the Scarlets opted to cash in, with the player aiming to realise his personal ambitions.

And the Welsh region have hardly crumbled since.

Instead, they have managed to build a squad that won the PRO12 in stunning fashion this season.

And Saints will hope they can use their seven-figure financial sweetener to help them do the same in the Premiership in seasons to come.

Because, who knows, without Picamoles, they may come to rely on the many rather than the few.

This season, they have had a get-out clause in the shape of the France star.

Now, everyone will have to pull together to ensure his absence won't be too telling.

And you never know, that might actually work in their favour as they look to recreate the winning culture they possessed well before Picamoles arrived on these shores..