Saints farewell interview: Ben Nutley
Ben Nutley made 83 appearances for the Saints - and he rarely disappointed during any of them.
Whenever the blond-haired flanker took to the field, he gave everything for the cause.
And on so many occasions, he caught the eye.
But the big frustration for Nutley was that he was never truly able to cement his spot in the Saints back row.
He would come into the team and impress, only for injury or the return of a seemingly more established player to put a spanner in the works.
But the affable forward never let that deter him.
He continued to turn in key displays until the end at Franklin’s Gardens, helping the Wanderers to claim back-to-back Prem Rugby A League titles.
And he can certainly be proud of his time at Saints, which comes to an end this summer as his contract has expired and he is bound for newly-promoted Championship side Coventry.
“It’s going to be a bit of a change,” Nutley said.
“I’ve been full-time since I was 18 and I’m excited to play.
“Coventry will give me the chance to prove I can play regularly week in, week out.
It’s an exciting club. I had a chat with the DOR (Rowland Winter) and he’s got a great vision so I can see them going places.
“It’s going to be an interesting move, but it’s going to be exciting at the same point.
“The Premiership is very professional but Cov want to get there. They’re definitely not there yet, but they’ve got the vision to.
“Going from training five days a week to three could be a good thing or it could be a bad thing.
“I’ll have three days off a week but play at the weekend so it is different in that sense.
“It doesn’t mean they train any differently and they’ve got a really good group of lads and coaching setup, which is one of the things that drew me towards them.
“It’s all going to be set up right and it will be worthwhile.
“It’s going to be a change but no matter where you go in the Championship, there’s not many teams that have the facilities that Prem clubs do.
“Hopefully this will make my career.”
On so many occasions, it looked like Nutley would be able to make his career at Saints.
Just when he had started to fade away from the first-team picture, he regularly reminded everyone of his qualities.
Nutley said: “Last year, I got a contract around February time and the year before it was April, after the Saracens game (when Nutley excelled in a Champions Cup clash at Allianz Park).
“I haven’t had the best time with injury and opportunity and when I’ve got an opportunity I’ve taken it with both hands, and they’ve been like ‘oh, God, Nutley can still play rugby’.
“This year, it was up and down for a lot of players and you’ve seen how many are leaving (17 in total) so it’s been quite hard for lads to find opportunities as it is so competitive.
“A lot of clubs seem to be cutting down on the number of players they’re having in their squad.
“It was late (when he was told he would not be retained) but I’m quite used to it now and it wasn’t the end of the world.
“I knew I’d be playing rugby somewhere, I just didn’t know where.
“I spoke to a few clubs, mainly in the Championship because the Premiership is mainly done and dusted by February.
“I was speaking to a few clubs and to be totally honest, Coventry was probably initially my last choice, but I spoke to the DOR and listened to his vision.
“The players they were signing, the places where they want to go and the facilities they want to get was something that really drew me in.
“It really opened my eyes to a vision and something to work towards.
“The DOR is a good bloke, they’ve got an awesome set up there and I can definitely see them going places.”
Nutley’s contribution to Saints won’t be forgotten in a hurry as played his part in the sensational double-winning season of 2013/14.
He was a key man in an Amlin Challenge Cup quarter-final win at Sale Sharks that season and all of the victories meant even more to him as he had emerged from the Saints Academy.
“I’ve been a Northampton boy since 18 and even before that,” said Nutley, who was born in Luton and played for Luton Schools as a goalkeeper before focusing on rugby.
“That year, you were on the field and you never thought we were going to lose.
“There was a culture there, everyone was together and we hadn’t had much movement from the season before.
“It was a big year for us and everything we had been building for for a while culminated in that.
“It was massive and something that will always stick with me.
“The celebrations were as good as the win and it was a good group of lads.
“I’m not the only one of that group of players leaving and that will always stick with us.
“You always remember the trophies you won and hopefully in the future, I’ll be one starting in those games and winning trophies.
“But to even be a part of it was an amazing experience.”
Nutley became the ultimate squad player at Saints, starring whenever called upon and refusing to sulk when he wasn’t.
But he would clearly have loved more of a consistent run in the first team.
“There is a hierarchy in rugby about who plays and who doesn’t play, and that’s not down to me,” Nutley said.
“I purely played well because that’s what I do every game. I want to perform for the shirt and for the club - that won’t change no matter where I am.
“It’s all about perception of who you are and how you play. Maybe my face didn’t fit, who knows?
“Obviously the Saints back row has been very similar in terms of who they are and what they look like for a number of years now.
“Maybe I didn’t fit in, but I loved playing for the club and for the boys because they’re a top set of boys.
“I think the change (Chris Boyd coming in as director of rugby) is going to be good. It’s been a long time coming and I hope it will reap the rewards. I think it will.”
And as for Nutley...
“My priority is to play professional rugby as long as I can and I obviously want to play in the Premiership,” he said.
“I obviously have played a number of games for Northampton at the top level, but I haven’t played more than 12 games in a year since I was 19, whether that’s down to injury or opportunity.
“It’s basically about starting again, playing a year in the Champ, enjoying myself working with the coaching staff, knowing my ability and hopefully making it back into the Premiership.
“Coventry really want to go places and though they’d probably be the first to admit they’re not ready to go up straight away, they do have the ambition.
“For me personally, I want to be playing Premiership rugby within the next two years.
“I was part of the furniture at Northampton and people think I’m older than I am because I’ve been around for so long.
“It’s the same for Jamie (Elliott) and Mikey (Haywood), but I think I’ve had a tougher paper round so I look a lot older than them!
“Northampton’s been my life, but I’m only 26 so hopefully I’ve got another 10 years of rugby left.
“With the amount I haven’t been able to play, hopefully I can improve on that and really show people what I can do.”
Nutley, who gave up a place at Nottingham Trent University to start out at Saints several years ago, will always have the black, green and gold close to his heart.
And he will be back at the club when he gets the chance, to support the friends he has made over the years.
One of those is Teimana Harrison, with whom Nutley formed a formidable back row partnership when given the chance.
“I loved playing alongside Tei,” Nutley said.
“Ever since he came over from New Zealand, we played a lot together in the Academy and Wandies games.
“We got something that we worked together with.
“I love playing alongside players like that, someone who you link with.
“Northampton are a very set-piece-dominated team and me and Tei maybe aren’t seen as the strongest in that area, but around the park we read each other really well.
“It’s something I’d loved to have done more with him, but it was never in my hands.”
Nutley will continue to coach the Old Northamptonians women’s team even though he is making the switch to Coventry.
And he said: “Northampton a home away from home, it’s all I’ve known.
“I’ll definitely be down at the Gardens to support the boys in the A League and in the first team when I can.
“It will always be close to my heart, it’s a club I’ve grown up with and who knows what will happen in the future? I might end up back.
“It’s an awesome place to be at.
“It hasn’t had the best past few years, but I can really see that turning around over the next few years.
“I’m a Saints fan as well as a former player.”