Aviva Premiership
Saints hit back at Shepherd's agent
ESPN Staff
August 16, 2012
Cameron Shepherd will play for Sale Sharks next term © PA Photos

Northampton Saints have defended their decision to pull out of a deal to sign Australian Cameron Shepherd following his agent's decision to launch legal proceedings.

Saints announced the signing of the former Wallabies international from the Western Force back in May on a three-year contract only to pull the plug on the deal last week citing fears over an ankle injury. He has since signed for Premiership rivals Sale Sharks, who have handed Shepherd the chance to prove his fitness, but his representative Nick Fordham remains angry at the treatment of his client and revealed last night that he had instructed lawyers to look into the case.

Northampton director of rugby Jim Mallinder said at the time: "We obviously monitored Cameron's condition between signing his contract and his scheduled arrival and, after great consideration, felt that on balance we needed more certainty about his ability to handle the tough demands of our long season for the duration of his three-year contract."

But Fordham responded with a statement of his own. "During this very stressful period, Cameron called several times for the man who lured him to the club - head coach Jim Mallinder - who didn't even have the decency to return his calls nor the courage to explain the position directly to Cameron.

"The club has leaned on a very loose medical clearance clause in the heads of agreement which is purely in the club's favour. This is now being scrutinised by the UK-based Rugby Players Association.

"What's the point in having contracts where things can be completely fabricated to break contracts and then cause damage to one's professional reputation, as has happened in this instance? Northampton should be ashamed of themselves and this should be a warning to any player contemplating an association with the club."

Fordham also claimed expert medical reports from independent orthopaedic surgeons had concluded that there was nothing wrong with Shepherd's ankle but the war of words escalated once again this evening with Saints insisting they will fight any legal action.

A club spokesman said: "Mr Fordham has made a number of baseless assertions on the events surrounding Cameron Shepherd signing a deal with Northampton Saints and the club's subsequent decision not to proceed with the contract, something which the club believes it was well within its rights to do.

"Northampton Saints had been prepared to sign Shepherd, who when fit is a talented player, on a generous three-year contract.

"Once terms had been agreed, the club flew lead physiotherapist, Matt Lee, to Melbourne to conduct the player's medical.

"During this medical, material information about Shepherd's left ankle came to light, about which the club had not been aware during the contract negotiation process.

"The player's ankle joint was scanned and the results sent to one of the UK's leading ankle specialists.

"Relying on his expert opinion, the club concluded that it was unlikely that Shepherd would be able to contribute fully to the club's squad throughout the three-year term, and decided not to proceed with the contract.

"It should be noted that while Shepherd has subsequently signed for Sale, it has been widely reported that this is for one year and not three, with the Sharks' director of rugby Bryan Redpath commenting: "We're hoping to get him fully fit".

"After the medical, Shepherd's agents in the UK and Australia were kept fully informed of the club's concerns. While the final decision regarding Shepherd's contract was made shortly before the player left Australia on a long holiday prior to his scheduled arrival in the UK, the club's initial concerns were raised several weeks beforehand.

"It is the club's standard practice to communicate with agents regarding contractual issues, with Jim Mallinder and other members of rugby management talking to and emailing Shepherd's representatives regularly throughout the process; there was also direct communication with the player from Mallinder (contrary to the claim made by Mr Fordham).

"The Northampton Saints management is in particular surprised to note that Mr Fordham, with whom the club has had no dealings prior to the termination of the Shepherd deal, has taken it upon himself to question the integrity of what is regarded as one of the best run Premiership rugby clubs.

"Although the Northampton Saints management feel it necessary to make this statement to refute Mr Fordham's allegations, the club does not anticipate making any further comment until the matter has been concluded. The club will vigorously defend any legal proceedings which are served."

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.

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