The talent drain from Newcastle Falcons to the East Midlands had reduced to a trickle under Dean Richards, but the tap has been turned back on with Northampton Saints swooping for Joel Hodgson.
The 21-year-old had added a dash of creativity and excitement to a season of struggle for the Falcons last term, but Newcastle’s attempts to keep him at the club have proved too little, too late.
Rumours of a move to Franklin’s Gardens had been circulating since the Falcons ended their league season second-bottom of the table with a home loss to Exeter, the formalities delayed by the player having an operation on a broken wrist.
That looks like delaying his return to full playing action, but has not prevented the Premiership champions from pouncing on the chance to sign the free agent.
Hodgson had always struggled for game time under Richards, the former Harlequins boss favouring Phil Godman and Rory Clegg until the last month of the campaign, when Hodgson was pushed to the front of the queue.
Newcastle’s reluctance to show an early interest in retaining their homegrown prospect may well come back to bite them, and fans were yesterday taking to the internet to express their dismay at another young local talent being allowed to move on.
Hodgson joins former Falcons Lee Dickson and Phil Dowson in his new surroundings, the Saints having last month won both the Aviva Premiership and Amlin Challenge Cup finals.
Intriguingly, the Franklin’s Gardens club billed Hodgson as a scrum-half in an official announcement, a position in which he has not played any senior rugby for more than three years.
The former Royal Grammar School Newcastle pupil was capped by England Under-18s as a No 9 under former Newcastle boss John Fletcher and played there in an Amlin Challenge Cup tie against Exeter, but the past three years have been spent fighting his case as a stand-off.
Finding a scrum-half berth at Northampton will be no mean feat given the league champions already have two of the finest exponents in the division, Dickson and Kahn Fotuali’i having vyed for the starting spot for most of last season.
However, with a Rugby World Cup next year and international windows to contend with, Saints boss Jim Mallinder sees Hodgson’s pace and vision as a major draw.
The director of rugby said: “Scrum-half is a specialist position where you need a lot of depth, especially when you have the likes of Kahn and Lee away regularly with Samoa and England. “Joel is a talented young English player and he will provide stiff competition for Alex Day, who won the Junior World Championships with England just 12 months ago.
“We view Joel as a player who has a lot of potential and we are looking forward to seeing him develop at Franklin’s Gardens.”
Hodgson added: “I would like to thank everyone at Newcastle for everything they’ve done for me over the past few years.
“I grew up supporting the Falcons and to wear the first team shirt was a real privilege.
“Leaving Kingston Park and the friends and supporters I have at the Falcons will be a wrench for me and I’m under no illusions it is going to be a steep development curve, but I believe the move to Northampton is in the best interests of my long-term career.”
Attention will now turn to whether or not Newcastle enter the transfer market for a replacement, Godman and Clegg both still contracted for the coming season despite having struggled to dominate games last time round.
Argentinean signing Juan Pablo Socino played a portion of his rugby at fly-half during Rotherham’s rise to the Championship semi-finals, a league in which he was named player of the season.
Having looked more at home in the centres, however, it remains to be seen whether or not the 26-year-old can step up to regular rugby as a Premiership No 10.