Saints farewell interview: Francois van Wyk
Francois van Wyk chuckles warmly when the subject of him returning to Saints as a Tiger arises.
“I think I will get a lot of stick from the boys but it’s all good,” said the affable loosehead prop, who is making the move from Northampton to Leicester this summer.
Van Wyk has set his sights on securing more game time, having often been starved of minutes at Franklin’s Gardens since making the move in 2017.
With Alex Waller so durable and so influential in his role as club captain at Saints, it hasn’t been easy for van Wyk to stake his claim on a regular basis.
He has shown more than a few flashes of what he can do, and often threatened to make the No.1 shirt his own.
But it wasn’t to be for the popular 29-year-old, who said an emotional goodbye in a speech at the Gardens following the home game against Exeter Chiefs last month.
“The Saints did offer me another three years on a couple of occasions but I felt I needed to move on,” van Wyk explained.
“I couldn’t keep sitting behind Alex Waller, who is the club captain, and I wanted to go somewhere I felt I could get some more minutes.
“I spoke to (Leicester boss) Steve Borthwick and I was impressed with the vision he has for Tigers.
“I know Gengey (England prop Ellis Genge) is there and it will be great to compete with him and hopefully get more game time, especially as he is likely to be with England quite a lot.
“That will be my chance to show what I can do and hopefully take my game to the next level.”
It wasn’t an easy move for van Wyk to make as he has grown so fond of Saints.
He openly describes the club as the most tight-knit he has represented, having previously played for Australian side Western Force and hometown club Western Province in South Africa.
And having learned to love Saints and dislike Tigers during his four years in Northampton, somehow he must now do the opposite as he prepares to hop over the East Midlands fence.
“I’ve loved playing at the Gardens and it will be a bit strange to go back as a Leicester player but it will be good,” he said.
“The supporters at Saints have been so great to me and all I can say to them is thank you.
“Their support has meant so much to me, I’m very fortunate to have played for a club like this and I wish everyone all the best.”
He added: “The Saints is the best club I’ve been part of and I love the club.
“It was such an emotional roller coaster and it was hard to say goodbye.”
After his move to Leicester was announced, van Wyk found himself out of the Saints matchday squad as Chris Boyd preferred to field players who would be at the club next season.
But a late withdrawal on the final day of the season opened the door for van Wyk to represent Saints one final time - and he didn’t disappoint.
He put in a strong showing from the bench, showing that his commitment to the cause was still very much there.
“I’m glad I got the chance to pull the jersey on one last time on the final day at Bath,” van Wyk said.
“I had been told I wouldn’t get to play again as I wasn’t part of the plans moving forward so it was nice to be able to have that final game.
“I really enjoyed it and it was nice to be able to sign off like that, even though we lost.
“Overall, it was a frustrating last five months for me at Saints but I never slacked off at all.
“I just kept working hard and enjoying the time I had with a great bunch of boys - it’s such a tight-knit group.
“It was tough for me sitting behind the club captain but credit to Alex because he is a big part of the club and he has done well.
“I just needed some more game time and I’m hoping I can get that at Leicester.”
And what Leicester will be getting is a player who can more than hold his own in the Premiership.
Van Wyk is a match for most at the scrum and his breakdown qualities often come to the fore, too.
He has certainly come a long way since arriving at Saints, and he has helped the club to start moving up the table again after some tough times.
“It was difficult for me here at first but I think I progressed year on year,” van Wyk said.
“I didn’t always get as many games as I’d hoped for but I feel like I kept improving as a player.
“It has been a great experience to be part of this club and I have enjoyed it massively.
“I would like to thank the coaches and my team-mates for making me the player I am today.
“But now is the right time to take the next step and see what I can achieve at Tigers.
“I want to take that next step and going back to Super Rugby didn’t seem right for me at the moment.
“The Premiership is such a big competition and such a high level and I wanted to still be part of that.”