A HEREFORDSHIRE rugby player who has seen his fortunes turn in recent months has signed a contract for next season with top flight rugby club Northampton Saints.

Flanker Aaron Hinkley, from Hereford, impressed the Saints during a trial leading to him being handed a deal for the forthcoming season.

The 23-year-old moved from Gloucester to Exeter in 2020 but saw his match-time limited.

“It was extremely frustrating, but they were the double Champions at that point. They were the best team in Europe,” Hinkley said.

“I suppose I came in at a difficult time, with coronavirus, because there were no second-team games, there were no loan opportunities, so I was in the shadows, as many people in my kind of position had been for a bit.

“I’ve been lucky that I’ve managed to come through and find a club for the next year, and I’m really enjoying my time so far with Saints.”

Hinkley returned to the field during a loan spell at Championship club Coventry in October, but his lack of opportunities at Exeter had led to him falling out of love with rugby and considering a very early retirement from the sport.

“When I first started being put on loan to Coventry, I was thinking more or less about retiring," added Hinkley.

“It was closer to that side of it, rather than coming through and playing and doing what I’m doing now.

“I really had my head down, I wasn’t enjoying my rugby, I wasn’t really enjoying life at that point, so to come through it and to be where I am now at this point in the season is absolutely incredible.

“I’ve always put my eggs in one basket – otherwise you’re not putting everything into it – so I don’t know [what I might have done if I had given up rugby], but I probably would have ended up on a building site or something like that, grafting away.

“My first contact with Saints came before Christmas – it was a long time ago.

“But that was for next year and then they just wanted me to come in. They might have wanted me for next year anyway, but they just wanted to see how I fitted in with the environment, how I’d mix with the other boys, and stuff.

“The coaching staff here are unbelievable, the players are great and the style of play really suits me as well – so I’m very, very happy to be here.”