BULLOCKING RGS Newcastle prop Fraser Balmain has turned down Northampton Saints to sign a one-year deal with Premiership champions Leicester Tigers.
The rampaging tighthead was courted by Premiership semi-finalists Northampton, who offered him an eight-week trial, but the 18-year-old has put his university studies on hold to join the Tigers.
Powerful Balmain battered all comers in both the tight and loose as RGS strode to the Daily Mail Cup final, and has now been handed the chance to forge a career in top-flight rugby.
The Morpeth front-rower – who won a senior Northumberland cap in the season passed – has deferred his studies at Loughborough University to accommodate his full-time deal, which will see him train with the First XV squad and turn out for the Tigers’ Under-19s and potentially their Development Team.
Leicester have already told the imposing 18-stone No 3 that they will retain him full-time beyond his initial year should he make a big impression at Welford Road.
Balmain was a member of the Falcons Academy, but was released earlier this summer, and had not been offered full-time terms by the Kingston Park club.
RGS head coach Andy Watt sent Balmain’s rugby CV and DVD highlights package to contacts at both Midlands giants Leicester and Northampton, and both clubs showed immediate interest.
Northampton were keen on recruiting the destructive open-field runner, but wanted to reserve full judgement until the end of an eight-week summer trial.
Leicester though, were ready to commit to a 12-month contract on the strength of the DVD and a wide number of testimonials.
Delighted RGS coach Watt believes Balmain now has an excellent opportunity to carve out a successful professional career – but warned a lot of hard work awaits in the East Midlands.
“Fraser has been a standout performer all year with us,” said Watt, “and he certainly deserves his chance.
“He’s probably in the best place to learn the trade as a front-rower, given Leicester’s powerful forward pedigree.
“Fraser certainly has talent, but at school level he has been able to dominate pretty much everyone he has propped against, and in the loose there’s not that many who fancy taking him square on when he has the ball.
“Clearly the senior game will be totally different from that, and he will benefit enormously from a year’s full-time rugby with the Tigers.
“He’s a very big lad at just over 18 stone, but he’s still carrying a bit of weight and his conditioning is always something that could have been better.
“So Leicester will get him in great shape in no time, and then it will be really exciting to see what he can do.
“He will need to spend a lot of time focusing on his technique too, but the coaches at Welford Road will know exactly what to do with him.
“At RGS he has been able to let opposition props apply the pressure, and take all that in before striking back – but he won’t be able to get away with that in senior rugby.”
Balmain is the second RGS leaver to sign top-flight professional terms, after England Under-18 half-back Joel Hodgson joined the Falcons, but Watt does not expect any more to follow suit – at least, not immediately.
“Lewis Munnelly is joining Northumbria on a scholarship,” continued Watt, “so he will probably play for the Blaydons and the Tynedales in the next couple of years.
“And our No 8 Tom Harrison is going to Manchester University, so might end up somewhere like Macclesfield initially, but in time he might have a chance once he develops fully.
“To have had two players from the same team to progress to professional rugby is a real boost for us, and we’re extremely proud of both Fraser and Joel.”