Northampton bought themselves yet another loose forward yesterday, which might have raised a few eyebrows in this age of austerity had the Midlanders not obviously been able to afford it. Almost alone amongst the Premiership elite, they are making a serious profit – almost £700,000 last season on a turnover of £12.8m. No wonder they were able to bolster their back-row resources by signing the Wales international Rhys Oakley from the French club Bourgoin.
The men from Franklin's Gardens have been in the black every year since 2000, when the club became a PLC. "It is a unique record, of which the directors are rightly proud," said the chief executive Allan Robson, who identified a 97 per cent take-up of tickets for home matches as the foundation stone of this financial success. As the Saints are close to sealing the deal on a substantial redevelopment project at their already excellent stadium, the odds on a 13th consecutive profit declaration shorten by the minute.
Oakley, a product of the Bristol club who played Premiership rugby for Leeds, is a handy addition, especially as the England prospect Calum Clark is only midway through a long suspension. Northampton already have two Test loosies on their books in Phil Dowson and Tom Wood and with the latter nearing full fitness after months of injury hassle – he is in the shake-up to start the opening game of the league campaign at Gloucester on Saturday – competition for places will be intense, but Oakley will challenge hard. "I think I come to Northampton a more rounded player for my time in France," he said yesterday. "I had to take a lot more on my own back there, become a lot more professional and communicate in a different way. It was good to get away from the Premiership for a while. I feel refreshed."
London Welsh, piecing together a squad against the clock in an effort to make a decent fist of their first season in the Premiership, have also turned to Bourgoin for reinforcements. The Exiles completed the signings of two front-row forwards, Franck Montanella and Arthur Joly – the first a full France international (one Test appearance in 2007) and the second a highly regarded age-group cap.
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