Top prop Danny Hobbs-Awoyemi returns to boyhood club Northampton with a spring in his step and a ringing endorsement of his Test potential from scrum coach Matt Ferguson.
Hobbs-Awoyemi, a two-time Junior World Cup winner with England in 2013 and 2014, established himself as first-choice at London Irish but could not resist a move back north.
The fact he worked with Ferguson before at London Irish made the move all the sweeter, with the 26-year-old telling The Rugby Paper: “Fergie was at London Irish for a bit in 2017/18 and helped me develop, so it’s good to be working with him again because he’s so detailed.
“I enjoyed my time at London Irish and getting into the first team there gave me a lot of confidence, but it’s really good to be back at Saints. Coronavirus happened and I was out of contract, so when Saints said they had a slot for me I was happy to return to where I started.
“I’m a local boy so it’s good for my family and I still know a lot of the lads. Tom Collins, Reece Marshall, Lewis Ludlam, George Furbank were all around when I was there so to see a lot of them kick on and make it into the first team, some with England as well, has been really good.”
Hobbs-Awoyemi added: “It’s a more relaxed environment at Saints to when I left in 2016 and everyone’s really excited to be getting ready to play rugby again. Saints are in a pretty good place and I’m returning as a senior player now – those years away helped me find my feet.
“It’s been brilliant to see so many boys develop since Chris Boyd got here and they’ve been able to showcase what they have through game time. That’s helped them get international honours and if I can play well for Saints, I’m aiming to emulate what those others have done.”
Ferguson backs Hobbs-Awoyemi to thrive, telling TRP: “Danny still holds all that promise he did as a youngster and he was playing some pretty good rugby for London Irish. If you were to write down the attributes of a modern-day prop, he ticks a lot of the boxes to go all the way.
“In terms of set-piece competence, defence and his work with ball in hand, he’s a real contributor across the game, which is a big requirement of what we want here at Saints.
“His biggest challenge is the day-to-day battle with our other looseheads, Alex Waller, Francois van Wyk, Nick Auterac and Manny Iyogun, and there’s some real quality there. But whoever comes out of pile on top will be playing good rugby and be in the frame for Test selection.”
That’s a challenge Hobbs-Awoyemi willingly accepts. He said: “There’s a good group of looseheads but there are a lot of games coming up so we’ll all have to share the workload.
“At 26, I’m reaching my peak years as a prop and with the exciting rugby Saints like to play, I’m really looking forward to being part of this. There haven’t been too many changes so I think I can settle quite quickly and we’ve got a good chance of making the top two or top four.”