Northampton Saints have hit back at Cameron Shepherd’s agent after yesterday’s announcement that the Australian winger is to take legal action against the club.
Shepherd signed for Saints back in May, but the club decided to put a stop to the deal last Monday on advice from their medical team.
On Wednesday night, Shepherd’s agent Nick Fordham issued a statement to the Chronicle & Echo to say his client had instructed lawyers over the matter.
Fordham said he was “appalled at the behaviour of Northampton in respect of the manner in which his client and family were treated”, claiming he was only informed of the decision three days before he was due to leave Australia.
“Cameron’s furniture was already on route to England by ship, he had completely uprooted his life in Australia and was on his way across the world with his partner and young baby,” said Mr Fordham.
Fordham claimed expert medical reports from independent orthopaedic surgeons had concluded that there was nothing wrong with Shepherd’s ankle.
But on Thursday night Saints issued a statement of their own, strongly refuting the allegations made by the agent and saying they will ‘vigorously defend any legal proceedings which are served’.
A club spokesman said: “Mr Fordham has made a number of baseless assertions on the events surrounding Cameron Shepherd signing a deal with Northampton Saints and the club’s subsequent decision not to proceed with the contract, something which the club believes it was well within its rights to do.
“Northampton Saints had been prepared to sign Shepherd, who when fit is a talented player, on a generous three-year contract.
“Once terms had been agreed, the club flew lead physiotherapist, Matt Lee, to Melbourne to conduct the player’s medical.
“During this medical, material information about Shepherd’s left ankle came to light, about which the club had not been aware during the contract negotiation process.
“The player’s ankle joint was scanned and the results sent to one of the UK’s leading ankle specialists.
“Relying on his expert opinion, the club concluded that it was unlikely that Shepherd would be able to contribute fully to the club’s squad throughout the three-year term, and decided not to proceed with the contract.
“It should be noted that while Shepherd has subsequently signed for Sale, it has been widely reported that this is for one year and not three, with the Sharks’ director of rugby Bryan Redpath commenting: “We’re hoping to get him fully fit”.
“After the medical, Shepherd’s agents in the UK and Australia were kept fully informed of the club’s concerns. While the final decision regarding Shepherd’s contract was made shortly before the player left Australia on a long holiday prior to his scheduled arrival in the UK, the club’s initial concerns were raised several weeks beforehand.
“It is the club’s standard practice to communicate with agents regarding contractual issues, with Jim Mallinder and other members of rugby management talking to and emailing Shepherd’s representatives regularly throughout the process; there was also direct communication with the player from Mallinder (contrary to the claim made by Mr Fordham).
“The Northampton Saints management is in particular surprised to note that Mr Fordham, with whom the club has had no dealings prior to the termination of the Shepherd deal, has taken it upon himself to question the integrity of what is regarded as one of the best run Premiership rugby clubs.
“Although the Northampton Saints management feel it necessary to make this statement to refute Mr Fordham’s allegations, the club does not anticipate making any further comment until the matter has been concluded. The club will vigorously defend any legal proceedings which are served.”
Shepherd could play against Saints for Sale this season after signing on at the Premiership club on Wednesday.
But, contrary to Fordham’s claims the the player has no injury issue, Sharks director of rugby Bryan Redpath has hinted the player is not yet at full fitness.
He said: “Cameron has got great pedigree. We’re hoping to get him fully fit, so that he can seize the opportunity to make a big impact for this club.”