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Northampton great Lawes bows out at the top

LONDON : Northampton Saints stalwart Courtney Lawes will leave the club on a high after helping them seal a thrilling Premiership title on Saturday, their first in a decade and a fitting end to his 17 years at the club.

The towering Lawes, moving to French club Brive, evolved from a workhorse second row early in his career into one of the game's most fearsome back-row forwards.

Shirtless, heavily tattooed and sporting a reflective ski mask, Lawes told reporters after the 25-21 final win over Bath that it was the ending he wanted to his Northampton career.

"We have worked so hard this season and to watch the growth of the team and see so many young players step up and take the bull by the horns, has been amazing," he said.

Lawes became renowned for his brutal tackling, most memorably when he nearly cut French fly half Jules Plisson in two during the 2015 Six Nations.

But the British and Irish Lion was more than just an enforcer, offering a robust carrying game, a sure lineout option and a low-key but effective leadership presence later in his career.

"Loads has been written about his playing ability, and the impressive nature with which he has evolved through the game," Northampton coach Phil Dowson said.

"But this year he has also added so much to the group through his presence and confidence, the other players look to him."

His beaten opponents on Saturday paid tribute to Lawes.

"Courtney will go down as one of the greatest players in English rugby with his ability to keep getting better as he gets older, it takes someone special to do that, and it was a fitting send off for him," Bath captain Ben Spencer said of his England colleague.

Lawes is the latest high-profile England player to move to a French club amid concerns about