Picamoles ready for big reunion as Saints square up to Montpellier
The last time Saints squared up to Montpellier, a certain Louis Picamoles was among the try scorers for the French club.
But this time, Picamoles will be in the Northampton camp, bidding to inflict damage on the club where he began his senior career 12 years ago.
The French star has taken to life at Franklin’s Gardens like the proverbial duck to water, impressing in each of his five starts.
Amid a gloomy opening to the new campaign, Picamoles has been a shining light of consistency.
The big No.8’s carries and incredible offloads have already drawn plenty of plaudits.
And after taking a bit of a breather at The Stoop last weekend, when he came off the bench in a disappointing 20-9 defeat to Harlequins, he is now ready to thunder into Europe.
“I always enjoy playing against Montpellier because it was where I discovered rugby and made my breakthrough,” said Picamoles, with the help of a translator. “It will always be a special place for me.
“There are only a couple of players who were there in my time.
“They have a number of Springboks now and they play like South Africa, not spectacular but very physical.
“Now I try to see games against Montpellier as a normal game, even though the club still means a lot to me.”
And when asked what he remembers of Saints’ meetings with Montpellier during the 2008/09 Challenge Cup competition, Picamoles says: “I remember scoring a try. There were a lot of points and they were memorable matches.”
Saints beat Montpellier in both Challenge Cup group meetings during the 2008/09 season, romping to a 51-7 win at the Gardens before battling to a 28-24 success in France - in the match which brought the Picamoles try.
Memories of those matches are now distant, with full focus turning to this evening’s reunion.
And the presence of Picamoles will undoubtedly be key for Saints if he is able to continue the form he has show during his early days at the Gardens.
“It feels great to be here, learning to play with new players,” said Picamoles, who moved to Northampton from Toulouse during the summer.
“The language barrier slows me down a bit, but I feel better and better, game after game.
“I will only get better.”
That is ominous for Montpellier and for France’s opponents in the autumn and Six Nations.
Saints have met with France head coach Guy Noves to discuss Picamoles’ release and he will link up with his national team in early next month ahead of the opening autumn fixture, against Samoa, who have named Ken Pisi, George Pisi and Ahsee Tuala in their squad, in Toulouse on November 12.
But for now, Picamoles has plenty of work to do at Saints.
And his full focus is on helping his club get off to the best possible start in Europe, with today’s game followed by a trip to Castres the week after.
“I am never satisfied with my own performances and that is always driving me on,” the 30-year-old said.
“We know Montpellier will be very physical this weekend and they are a very efficient team so we will need to be at our best against them.”
And if Picamoles is at his best, this time it might be Montpellier who have the bad memories of facing him.