Saints sign Doncaster skipper and Falcons hooker

Saints have added two more players to their squad for next season, signing Doncaster Knights skipper Sam Graham and Newcastle Falcons hooker Robbie Smith.

By Tom Vickers
Monday, 11th April 2022, 1:04 pm
Updated Monday, 11th April 2022, 1:08 pm
Sam Graham
Sam Graham

Back row forward Graham joins from the Knights having captained the side to an impressive second-place finish in the Championship last term.

Meanwhile, 23-year-old hooker Smith arrives at cinch Stadium at Franklin’s Gardens from Newcastle Falcons.

Both players will join up with the black, green and gold this summer ahead of Saints' pre-season campaign.

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Robbie Smith

And incoming director of rugby Phil Dowson is thrilled to have two more talented young players within his ranks.

“Saints have a great track record of uncovering some promising players who have come in and done brilliantly for the club, and we think Sam and Robbie could be two more,” Dowson said.

“Sam is one of the most powerful ball-carriers and tacklers in the Championship, and captained Doncaster brilliantly this season.

"He’s very athletic but what impressed me most was his ambition and his journey; he has worked so hard to forge a career for himself in rugby.

“He was working as a chef in Michelin-star restaurants not so long ago, but he’s very driven and every move he has made has been about giving himself the best opportunity to play regularly.

"His attitude to training is that it is like preparing for a gourmet dinner – all the graft during the week will pay off come the weekend – and that is music to your ears as a coach.

“Meanwhile I spoke to Mike Rayer at Bedford Blues about Robbie, and again he was very complimentary about his attitude.

“He’s a really good set-piece forward – Matt Ferguson highlighted him for his scrummaging and throwing ability – and around the park he has the potential to be really effective as well in both defence and attack.”

Loose forward Graham has made 28 Doncaster appearances in two seasons since joining the Knights from Bristol Bears.

He was named club captain ahead of the 2021/22 campaign after winning the players’ and coaches’ player of the year awards during his first year at Castle Park.

Comfortable playing across the back row, the 24-year-old began his career at Chippenham RFC before joining Bath’s Academy and then Bristol.

He also spent time overseas developing his game with Auckland’s Massey RFC in New Zealand prior to joining the Bears, where he made 10 first-team appearances and a further 15 while on loan with Hartpury.

After working as a professional chef for five years before his rugby career took off, Graham is relishing the prospect of playing at Gallagher Premiership level.

And he admits he is desperate to grasp the opportunity with both hands.

Graham said: “Everything has felt right ever since I first started talking to Saints about a potential move, and it’s really exciting for me now to be joining a top Premiership side.

“I love the way Northampton play, with an attacking mindset, and the coaches there seem to speak my language.

“I know I am not the finished product yet, but Phil Dowson and the other coaches have already taken the time to invest in me by watching all my games, and telling me both what they like and equally what I need to work on.

“That’s the most important thing for me; I don’t want to come to Saints and let the opportunity pass me by. I want the coaches to push me to be better, and that’s the vibe I am getting from them already.”

Born in south-west Scotland, Smith came through the ranks at Newton Stewart and Ayr before progressing into Glasgow Warriors’ Academy set-up and representing Scotland at Under-16, Under-18 and Under-20 level.

He captained his country in his second of two years with the Under-20s, before moving south of the border to spend the 2019/20 season in the Championship with Saints’ partner club, Bedford Blues.

Newcastle came calling after a successful stint at Goldington Road, and Smith has made 10 appearances to date for Falcons – scoring twice against Saints in a Premiership Rugby Cup clash at Franklin’s Gardens on March 30.

“I loved my experience of playing in Northampton last month and I can’t wait for more of the same next season,” said Smith.

“I played at Franklin’s Gardens for Scotland Under-20s a while back as well – and the stadium, the pitch and the supporters at the club are absolutely class.

“Saints play an exciting brand of rugby, looking to move the ball a lot, with a young group of players who are given the opportunity to express themselves by the coaches.

"There are also some world class international players to learn from within the squad, so when the chance to move to Northampton presented itself, I had to take it.”