Saints looking to sign new marquee player for next season
The rumour mill appears to grind into action earlier every season.
And in recent weeks, it has been up and running at Saints, with speculation rife about players who will be joining and leaving next summer.
The French press is a particular source of gossip, as it was last year when Louis Picamoles was linked with a switch from Toulouse.
At it happened, Picamoles did move to Franklin’s Gardens and has been a big hit ever since.
So who will be the next big name to head to Northampton? Because it certainly seems Saints want one.
“We would be in the market for another marquee-type signing for next season,” revealed chairman Tony Hewitt, who this week confirmed that Saints did try to re-sign Samu Manoa from Toulon last summer.
“You can move the deckchairs around and you’re allowed two marquee players, with any new one coming from outside the Premiership.
“We are looking for another key signing for next year because we realise we’ve got to be competitive on the pitch.
“We can’t just stay as we are, we’re looking to strengthen the side all of the time.”
As it stands, George North and Picamoles are currently Saints’ marquee players, which means their wages fall outside of the salary cap.
But Saints look likely to move the salary of one of those men into the allowed budget for a Premiership club, which will be £7million for the 2017/18 season.
And that would open the door for a recruit from abroad for the next campaign.
“Every Premiership club says the same thing: recruitment now is more difficult than it’s ever been,” Hewitt said.
“I’ve been involved since 1988 on recruitment because that’s when I first became involved, when they had the revolution and they wanted business people in the town to help with recruitment.
“But now it’s much more difficult because not only have you got the 12 Premiership sides, but you’ve also got the Top 14 in France, all with money, all competing for a limited pool of players.
“It’s the classic supply and demand situation because salaries increase and put pressure on clubs.
“We want to remain competitive still, but we have to work within our financial budget.”
Some players will inevitably move on at the end of the current campaign.
And Hewitt said: “The great difficulty sometimes in sport is people want you to make an immediate change to a player, but you’ve got to wait until the player’s contract comes to an end and change them over and vice versa.
“You have to balance it all out in that situation, but we’re very active in trying to get the right players in who will strengthen our side for next year.”
And Jim Mallinder will be the man who picks exactly who he wants to be part of the Saints squad next season.
Hewitt has never wavered in his support of the director of rugby, who had received some criticism after Saints’ stuttering start to the season.
“We’ve got great faith in Jim and the coaches,” Hewitt said.
“Jim has been our most successful coach that we’ve had at the Saints.
“We’ve won the Aviva Premiership, we’ve won the Challenge Cup, we’ve won the Anglo-Welsh Cup, got to the final of the European Cup.
“He’s been fantastic with us and we’ve got total faith in Jim.
“He and the coaches will continue to get it right.
“We’re doing two things on the pitch: trying to get the (attack) coach in place and that will take time to get the right person in place, and also we’re beginning recruitment for the 2017/18 season.
“We’re talking to people now and as you will recall last year, we made an early appointment with Louis Picamoles because you’ve got to be in the market early for the very best players.”