Cannon not fazed by illustrious family history

Though James Cannon reckons his father and Saints legend Vince is not the type of bloke to shed a tear when his son made his debut for the club, he must have been a proud man watching in the stands at Franklin's Gardens.

For most players, just making their debut is special enough, but for Cannon Jnr there was extra poignancy when he walked into the Saints changing room for the clash against Launceston.

As the 19-year-old second rower sat down under the number four, above him was a brass plaque proudly declaring: Vince Cannon, 1973 to 1989, 438 appearances.

A rare midweek fixture and Saints' lengthening injury list meant a shock call-up for the senior Academy lock and he took it in his stride to such an extent that the performance earned him a first cap for England Under-20s against Ireland last Friday.

As Cannon said when I met him in the changing rooms this week: "It's been a bit of a mad couple of weeks."

It is easy to think that following in his father's footsteps was inevitable, that having a parent who has the third highest number of appearances by a player in the club's history to his name would have meant Cannon playing with a rugby ball as soon as he could walk.

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Yet it seems father Cannon was anything but a pushy parent, in fact Cannon didn't even know his dad played for Saints when he first came to watch them just five years ago.

"We were sat in the stands and my dad said I'm just going to pop into what I thought was a shed," said Cannon. "But it was actually the Crooked Hooker, and everybody seemed to know who he was. I thought this is a bit weird, to my knowledge he had never even been to the ground before. I knew that he had played rugby, only to the extent that he played for Kettering, I didn't really have any idea about what he had done."

Cannon added: "I didn't actually know what rugby was until I was about 12. I had no idea what Northampton Rugby Club was, I was just interested in football, like all my other friends.

"I didn't start playing rugby until secondary school at Bishop Stopford in Kettering. I found I was a lot better at rugby than football and then I went down to Kettering Rugby Club and it all started from there."

In fact this time last year, Cannon was playing first team rugby for Kettering in Midlands Two, so how was the step up eight levels?

Cannon said: "The pace of the game was very quick, it was the one notable factor that was different. I need to get a few more miles under my belt, but now I know what to expect."

Having a father who is one of 10 players in Saints' Hall of Fame must help though.

Cannon said: "He gives helpful tips on how I should go about the game, but he realises that was then and this is now. I am proud of his achievements, but he will be the first to admit that the game has evolved so much from when he played.

"A lot of it is tactics at the lineouts and kick-offs. I'm sure if I spoke to the coaches they would say he is on the right lines, but we want to try something different. As long as you bear that in mind, the tips he gives are great.

"Before the game he just said go out and enjoy it, get yourself round the pitch, go out and do your normal kind of game. Speaking to other players beforehand they said as soon as the whistle goes you don’t notice the crowd or anything, and I thought that can’t be true, but it is.”

Cannon, who combines Saints with studying history at Nottingham University, is in his first year in the senior Academy. He already weighs 17st 5lbs and at 6ft 5in forwards coach Dorian West is delighted with the youngster’s size, especially as a back injury kept him out until mid-February.

Having only just got back in training meant the call-up to the first team was a big suprise. Looking up at the plaque on the matchday must have brought up some emotions, but Cannon was commendably focused.

Cannon said: “To tell you the truth it didn’t have a huge affect on me.

“It is nice to look up and see his name, but it is all about how you deal with it personally. I have my own personal targets like any other player would, but it is nice to have somebody to talk to who has been there and done that. We’ve used these changing rooms for Wanderers games. You put pressure on yourself more in first team games, it was a nerve-wracking experience, but as soon as the warm-up starts you just start your normal pre-match routine.”

So, one down and 438 to go to win family bragging rights.