Courtney Lawes retains Lions ambition after farewell to English rugby

Lawes went out on top on Saturday.

Courtney Lawes played his 283rd and final game for Northampton on Saturday
Courtney Lawes played his 283rd and final game for Northampton on Saturday (Joe Giddens/PA)

Courtney Lawes departs Northampton with a second Gallagher Premiership winners medal and the ambition of embarking on one last British and Irish Lions tour.

Lawes captained Saints to a 25-21 victory over Bath in a dramatic Premiership final at Twickenham on Saturday as his 17-year career at his only English club came to a fitting end.

The former England skipper joins ambitious French second division side Brive next season but even at 35-years-old he is delivering international-quality performances.

Although announcing his 105-cap England odyssey was over at the 2023 World Cup, he would welcome a third Lions tour when Andy Farrell leads next year’s expedition to Australia.

Northampton celebrate winning the 2023-24 Premiership title
Northampton celebrate winning the 2023-24 Premiership title (Mike Egerton/PA)

“I’d love to be involved with the Lions again,” said Lawes, who was part of the 2017 and 2021 series against the All Blacks and Springboks, making five Test appearances.

“The reason I retired from international rugby is that I didn’t want to be away every couple of months for months on end.

“The Lions is for two months, I can bring my family out and we can have a good time. Having said that, I’m not expecting it. But if I do get that opportunity I’d be there.”

The competition for back row places in Farrell’s Lions squad will be fierce, but Lawes’ belief that he can become a better player – voiced last week – will have been noted by the Ireland head coach.

Whatever happens with the Lions, he leaves a lasting legacy at his home town club where he has developed into one of the greats of English rugby.

“Loads has been written about Courtney’s playing ability and the way he’s evolved in the game. He’s always had the desire and mentality to get better,” Northampton director of rugby Phil Dowson said.

“But more importantly this season is how much he’s added to our young group. Courts has been there and done that on the biggest stages. Players look to him and that is something that is intangible.

“It’s had a huge impact on the players around the group. He has allowed them to grow.”

Among the academy-produced stars to have benefited from Lawes’ experience is George Hendy, the 21-year-old who stepped off the bench to crash through four tackles and set-up the game-winning try for Alex Mitchell.

Hendy was named man of the match for conjuring the final’s decisive moment and he has built a reputation this season as a potent force off the bench.

“We always beat the drum as a backline about beating people. That’s something we pride ourselves on and I’ve always backed myself to beat that first guy,” Hendy said.

“I was 100 per cent running on instinct but we get into those situations so often in training and in other matches as well that it becomes habit.”

Bath played almost an hour with 14 players after Ben Obano was sent off for a high tackle, yet they performed with courage and intelligence to place the result in doubt until the final whistle.

“We showed what sort of team we are – a team that’s tough to beat,” captain Ben Spencer said.

“We’re a team that loves a challenge. This was our biggest challenge and we came up just short. I’m hugely proud.”