These are difficult days at Northampton, despite the Midlanders' bold start to the new Premiership campaign. Two days after finding themselves tangled up in a racial-abuse controversy that is causing a high level of consternation among the sharpest legal brains on the Rugby Football Union's disciplinary wing, they learned that their director of rugby, the former Scotland flanker and captain Budge Pountney, would be calling it quits at the end of the season.
Pountney, a servant of the club for the past 15 years, told the board that he and his family intended to move to Hampshire. "I owe everything to Northampton," he said yesterday. "I am hugely proud to have been associated with such a great club for so long and would love to retain some kind of link as I would like to repay them for the time and effort they have put into me. I notified the board as soon as I made my decision to ensure they had ample opportunity to find an ideal replacement."
One of the more industrious open-side specialists of his generation, Pountney was forced to retire from active duty after wrecking an ankle during a pre-season game in Wales in 2003. He promptly joined the back-room staff at Franklin's Gardens, moving even more swiftly to what might be called the front room when the South African coach Alan Solomons was shown the door after a horrible run of results in 2004. With Paul Grayson, who won a World Cup winner's medal with England, he saved Northampton from what seemed inevitable relegation.
Yet it was Grayson who emerged as the real power at the club. Pountney kept his title, but spent increasing amounts of time in the shadows, concentrating on squad-building work while his partner handled duties on the competitive side of the operation. But few at Northampton, least of all the chairman, Keith Barwell, will be of a mind to underplay Pountney's contribution. Barwell said yesterday: "Budge was one of the men we turned to when Alan Solomons left. He has never taken a backward step here and I will always wish him well."
RFU officials were yesterday continuing to gather evidence relating the last Saturday's incident in the Northampton-Bath game, which was briefly halted after supporters complained of hearing racial abuse on the field. Judge Jeff Blackett, the union's chief disciplinary officer, intends to review reports from all parties before deciding how to proceed.Reuse content