- Lawes looks ahead to Kingsholm opener
- Saints lock urges teammates to start domestic season strongly
Photo: Getty Images
Courtney Lawes has hailed the “unbelievable” feel-good factor produced by Northampton Saints’ maiden Aviva Premiership title, but insists last term’s success will mean nothing when the holders begin their new campaign against a reinvigorated Gloucester Rugby on Friday night.
Lawes enjoyed a phenomenal 2013/4 for club and country, featuring in a combined total of 35 matches including the dramatic 24-20 victory over Saracens in the domestic final that was only decided by Alex Waller’s close-range try in the dying seconds of extra time.
The 25 year-old lock was often at his imperious best too, showcasing some simply awesome athleticism over an arduous nine months.
Agreeing that an injury-free run had contributed to one of the most satisfying seasons since his emergence as a blockbuster teenage talent back in 2007, Lawes looked back to the night of Northampton’s Premiership win.
Following the crescendo to a breathless game, the team coach carried Jim Mallinder’s charges back from Twickenham to Franklin’s Gardens. There, they were met by an ecstatic horde of fans – a moment that defined the importance of such a triumph to the surrounding area.
“It’s quite hard to describe what it meant for the club and the town as a whole,” said Lawes, who made his first-team debut for Saints seven years ago.
“To win the title for the first time made it feel like a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, then actually getting over the line was obviously very special.
“The night itself was unbelievable to be honest. The coach home was quite chilled – just a case of having a couple of beers together, sitting back and trying to appreciate what we had achieved.”
Days after those celebrations, Lawes and a healthy Saints contingent flew over to New Zealand with England for the Test series against the All Blacks.
Though a 3-0 reverse resulted, he suggested Stuart Lancaster’s side will have taken a great deal from their opponents’ “speed and clinical counter-attack” as Rugby World Cup 2015 approaches.
Only Northampton matters for now, though. Lawes spent a relaxing July holiday between Cornwall and Turkey with partner Jessica and 11 month-old daughter Nell – a period that has refreshed and refocused him.
Photo: Getty Images
On Friday evening, Saints open what promises to be a mightily competitive Premiership season at home to Gloucester, who have recruited heavily in a bid to add grunt up front.
New Zealand tighthead John Afoa, Wales hooker Richard Hibbard and lock Tom Palmer – Lawes’ former engine-room colleague with England – are three new international additions to the Cherry and Whites pack, which already features industrious back-rowers Ben Morgan and Matt Kvesic.
Clearly in no mood to tolerate complacency, Lawes was eager for Saints to embark on their title defence in an uncompromising manner. With Alex Corbisiero, Dylan Hartley and Tom Wood likely to start for Northampton, an eye-watering tussle awaits at set-piece, breakdown and in the contact area.
“You can never rest,” he added. “Our champions tag doesn’t mean anything because everyone starts this season level-pegging in the league. We all start over again.
“Gloucester’s new signings meant they’ll be big and strong up front, so it’s up to us to match up physically.
“Tom is very experienced now but he’s still athletic around the park and has become one of the most consistent locks around with what he offers at the lineout too.
“Hibbard and Afoa are two great international players, but Alex [Corbisiero] and Dylan [Hartley] will absolutely be up for that challenge.
“At Saints we genuinely enjoy testing ourselves against the best.”
First club: Northampton Old Scouts
Toughest opponent: Manu Tuilagi
Best mate in rugby: Joe Gray (Harlequins)
If you weren’t a rugby player, what would you be? Working for my dad’s property company