Northampton Saints chairman John White is excited to see some of the Club's young talent come to the fore in the Premiership Rugby Cup.
Read John's welcome and more in tonight's official matchday programme, on sale for £3.50...
Welcome to the start of another new competition this season at Franklin’s Gardens, as we entertain Bristol Bears in the Premiership Rugby Cup.
For those of you that have not heard much about this new competition – introduced this season by Premiership Rugby – it replaces the old ‘Anglo-Welsh Cup’ which had run in its previous form since 2005. While the competition may be different in format and will no longer include the four Welsh regions, it remains a crucial part of the pathway for budding Gallagher Premiership players, and a vital stepping stone for some of our youngest Saints.
"It’s great to see such a youthful Northampton side selected today – we could well be watching the next great talent in English rugby emerge this afternoon."John White
The Cup has been a highly successful competition in recent years in helping develop the best new Premiership and England players, in front of big crowds and TV audiences. Many Test players including Owen Farrell, George Ford and Maro Itoje all made their senior debuts in the Anglo-Welsh Cup – and some of the most recent Breakthrough Players of the Year have been Jack Nowell and Jonny May.
So, it’s great to see such a youthful Northampton side selected today, and who knows – we could well be watching the next great talent in English rugby emerge this afternoon. In Ollie Sleightholme and James Grayson we have two ‘second-generation Saints’ running out together, while the likes of Fraser Dingwall and Alex Mitchell have already shown their huge potential in the Premiership this season. Chris Boyd has put his faith in no fewer than 12 Saints Academy graduates in today’s squad, and this proves the future remains bright at Franklin’s Gardens.
This will be our second clash with Bristol Bears this season, after our 45-40 Premiership victory back in September – it was a thrilling ding-dong battle down at Ashton Gate and I’m sure we’ll see plenty more exciting rugby this afternoon. Bristol are a dangerous side, happy to run from anywhere, but it will be great to see a crowd favourite in Pat Lam back here in Northampton (albeit with a Bears shirt on).
I wanted to extend my congratulations to Dylan Hartley, Courtney Lawes and Dan Biggar for their selections in their respective international squads for this autumn’s matches. But it was particularly pleasing from a Saints perspective to see Courtney extend his contact with the Club last week. He will now continue to play his rugby here at his home in Franklin’s Gardens for at least the next two seasons. The phrase ‘world class’ gets thrown around a lot in rugby, but Courtney’s ability is nothing short of that. Courtney is a prime example of the Club’s ability to produce superb home-grown talent, and our plan for the future revolves around combining our talented youngsters with world-class players. So, Courtney’s contract extension is evidence of us beginning to implement that strategy, and we’re delighted he shares in our ambitious vision for the future.
"While today marks a brand-new chapter in Saints history with the start of this new competition, it also will likely bring up a massive Club milestone."John White
While today marks a brand-new chapter in Saints history with the start of this new competition, it also will likely bring up a massive Club milestone. With a raft of young players making their first-team debuts in Black, Green and Gold today, we could very well see our 2000th Saint run out onto the Franklin’s Gardens turf. Our backroom team worked long and hard over the summer to assign a number to every player to have ever turned out for Saints to denote their place in the history of the Club. Each Saint’s number is given chronologically depending on when they made their full senior debut for the Club – with ET Abell beginning the list, Edgar Mobbs carrying #281, record appearance holder Ron Jacobs holding #1121 and record points scorer Paul Grayson appearing at #1658.
Becoming Northampton Saint number 2000 will be a huge honour for whoever the lucky player might be this afternoon – it is one record that can never be taken from them in the annals of our Club’s proud history.
Enjoy the game, and come on you Saints!