Saints centre Proctor so grateful for his Northampton support network

There is no doubt that life can be extra-tough for Saints’ overseas stars.

By Tom Vickers
Sunday, 10th January 2021, 7:00 am
Matt Proctor
Matt Proctor

Moving to a new country is hard enough, but then being stuck in a lockdown situation without the support of your entire family adds to the agony.

But Matt Proctor is not a man who dwells on difficulties.

Instead, he tries to take the positives from every situation.

And with England now in another full lockdown, the Saints centre is at least grateful that he was able to get home to New Zealand last year.

“We were actually lucky enough to head back to New Zealand during the first lockdown,” explained Proctor, whose partner and young son have had to acclimatise to living across the world from their home country.

“We managed to time it perfectly and had a couple of months back, so that was a massive help in getting us through it, especially because myself and my partner are big on our families.

“To be able to go back and spend a couple of months with our families was massive for us, but we’re also quite close with a couple of families here, which has made it a lot easier as well.

“Things have been tough, but it’s good to have people who you are close with to lean on.”

One man who gives Proctor a taste of life back at home is fellow Kiwi Chris Boyd.

Proctor’s association with Boyd goes back almost a decade.

He has known Boyd for most of his professional life, playing under him with New Zealand Under-20s, at Wellington and with the Hurricanes before following him to Northampton, one year after his long-time boss had made the same journey.

It has been far from an easy time for the duo on and off the field of late, but the Boxing Day win against Worcester Warriors at least gave them a long-awaited boost after 12 successive defeats.

“I’m a big fan of Boydy,” Proctor said. “I think he’s a very, very good coach.

“Sometimes, when the team is not playing well, a lot of fingers get pointed at the coach, but I think it was just a relief for everyone and a feel-good moment for everyone to get the win, the staff and players included.

“It just shows all the work that they’re putting in and the players are putting in as well.

“It’s all towards a common goal and we’re all trying - we’ve all been trying for a long time and even though the results hadn’t been coming, we’d been getting closer and closer, so it was good to finally get a result and I’m confident we can carry that form forward.”

Like Boyd, Proctor was a bit of an instant hit at Saints.

The centre immediately found a way to make friends and influence people, scoring two tries on his Gallagher Premiership debut against his new club’s fierce rivals.

If Saints supporters didn’t already know about the qualities of Proctor when he signed from the Hurricanes in 2019, they were left in no doubt following one glorious afternoon against Leicester Tigers at Franklin’s Gardens.

The New Zealand star had made his first start for Saints the previous week against Benetton in the Champions Cup, but his first proper showcase in front of a packed house in England came against Tigers in November 2019.

And much like Saints themselves that day, Proctor brought that house down, scoring two tries in the opening half an hour of an emphatic 36-13 victory.

Saints and Proctor would have been craving a repeat performance this Saturday but their scheduled derby-day date against Tigers has been cancelled due to a Covid-19 outbreak at Franklin’s Gardens.

Still, it doesn’t hurt to look back on former glories.

And speaking about his two-try heroics against Tigers on that memorable November day, Proctor said: “That was an awesome occasion.

“That was my first time at Franklin’s Gardens when it had been packed and that’s a fond memory for me, which came when we were on top of our game.

“We were playing awesome rugby then, so hopefully we can bring back some of that form again and get back to playing how we do best.”

To put in such a performance was all the more impressive given it came from a player who had not only recently returned from a torn pectoral muscle, but was still finding his feet in a new country at the time.

And when asked whether that match against the Tigers helped with the settling-in process, Proctor said: “I think it was just pleasing for me because I’d been out of rugby for a while with injuries.

“It was just pleasing to find some form again – I’d only been here for a couple of weeks, but it was good to just get a good performance under the belt and bring a bit of confidence back in my game.”

Fans would have been hoping there was more where that came from when Leicester ran out at the Gardens on Saturday, even though they’d only have been able to cheer from their sofas this time due to the latest lockdown restrictions.

But now the Gardens will be completely empty as no action is able to take place and the Saints training ground has been closed due to the pandemic that continues to wreak havoc across the world.

Saints do at least have some more recent memories of victory to hold on to as the last time they took to the field they beat Worcester Warriors.

Proctor played in that 29-10 bonus-point Boxing Day success, helping to get Melani Nanai sin-binned during the first half as the Warriors full-back knocked on the Saints player’s pass, conceding not only a yellow card but also a penalty try in the process.

Overall, it was a much better showing from a Saints side who had previously lost 12 successive matches.

And it gave Boyd’s team a chance to banish some bad memories before a tough 2020 was out.

Saints had been due to try to back up that win by facing London Irish at the Brentford Community Stadium last Sunday, but that game was cancelled due to Covid-19 in the Irish camp.

Saints were subsequently awarded four Premiership points and started to look forward to facing Tigers.

But after recording one positive test of their own last week, the black, green and gold were further affected by Covid-19 in the build-up to the East Midlands battle.

And it was clearly a huge disappointment for Proctor, who would have loved to have the chance to strut his stuff against the Tigers once again.

Proctor said: “There’s obviously a massive rivalry between us and Leicester, so it’s definitely one of those games that you look forward to during the year.

“The London Irish game getting called off was quite disappointing for us as a squad.

“Obviously, their situation with Covid meant that we couldn’t play last week - and hopefully their boys have recovered from it - but it just meant that we’d had an extra week to prepare and for some of the boys to rest up their bodies.

“That would have allowed us to go out there and put on a good show on Saturday but it isn’t to be.”