Flanker Aaron Hinkley says his move to Northampton Saints has given him a new “spring of life” after he had considered retiring from the game.
Hinkley has featured three times for Saints, making his first Premiership appearances for 19 months.
“I’ve found a bit of love for the game again,” Hinckley told BBC Radio Northampton.
Hinkley began his career with Gloucester before moving to Devon ahead of the 2020-21 season only to suffer a knee injury in his second Premiership game.
He spent more than a year without playing competitive rugby before a loan move to Championship side Coventry in October got him back into action.
Although Hinkley played twice in the Premiership Cup for the Chiefs, he failed to break back into the Premiership side and took up the chance to kick-start his career at Welford Road with a trial period which has now led to a contract.
Hinkley said he thought the chance to find another top-flight club might have gone.
“I was more close to completely retiring and not playing anymore,” he said.
“I wasn’t enjoying my rugby and not enjoying where I was and needed a change.
“Northampton has given me a new spring of life, so I’m enjoying it.”
‘I’ve been thinking about this game since I got here’
Hinkley got his chance as a first-half replacement in Saints’ thrilling 32-31 win over Harlequins at the end of April and has gone on to play twice more to help them clinch their play-off semi-final spot and an eagerly-anticipated meeting with Leicester Tigers on Saturday.
“Northampton’s brand of rugby really suits me and everything seems to be going really well – the coaching style suits me too,” he said.
“I need to get my carrying game into it more now – that’s part of my game I’m pushing.”
Now with Tigers on the horizon, and the chance to get Saints to their first Premiership final since they were crowned champions in 2014, Hinkley says he could not have wished for a better match.
“It’s a relief – it turns out I can actually play rugby – and to be a club that backs me and believes in me is awesome,” he said.
“I can’t wait to be involved in the East Mids derby. When I was brought up, it was Gloucester-Bath, which is pretty similar.
“I’ve been thinking about this game since I got here basically. Playing the derby in the semi-finals – I’m so excited for it.”