Gary Pearce

Gary Pearce

Years: 1977-1996
Position: Prop
Appearances: 411
England caps: 36

In February 1978 a 21-year-old prop arrived at Franklin's Gardens for a four-match trial. Nearly 19 years and 411 appearances later it would be fair to say that an impression had been made. The legend of Gary Pearce was born.

That he stayed at the club for the best part of two decades - gaining international recognition in the process - was all the more remarkable given the distinct lack of Northampton success that lasted for much of the 1980s. But Pearce remained a constant throughout and was at the forefront of the playing revolution that laid the foundations for the club as it is today.

Pearce made his England debut a year after he joined the Saints against Scotland, and though he played in all of the 1979 Five Nations he missed out on the following year's Grand Slam. Nevertheless Pearce became a regular in the England set-up and over the following 12 years he collected 36 caps - then a national record. His last Five Nations match was in 1987 but he would go on to play in two World Cups, including a place on the replacements' bench for the 1991 final.

That visit to Twickenham came six months after Pearce had led Saints in their first major final - the Pilkington Cup defeat to Harlequins. Though Pearce relinquished the captaincy that summer he remained the cornerstone of the Northampton pack that came within a victory of winning the Division One in 1991/92.

Missing out on the league was a massive disappointment. Even so it signalled a remarkable turnaround for a club that four years earlier had finished bottom of Division Two. It was a time of upheaval at the Gardens but Pearce was a rock on the paddock, leading his side to promotion in 1989/90 and then Division One safety the following year.

Pearce left Franklin's Gardens for Nottingham in December 1996 but his presence lived on at the club thanks to his imposing portrait, painted by Geoff Stalker and paid for by the Saints Supporters Club. It marked a long and healthy relationship with the Northampton fans, who also voted him Player of the Season in 1989/90.

Given all that he did for the club it is apt that Pearce ended his playing days for good in the black, green and gold in the recent Legends benefit match for the Matt Hampson Trust.