As the men in Black, Green and Gold prepare to take to the Franklin's Gardens turf for the first time in 2021, Northampton Saints chairman John White is looking forward to an important Gallagher Premiership clash this afternoon.
Good afternoon and a socially-distanced ‘hello’ from Franklin’s Gardens ahead of this afternoon’s Gallagher Premiership fixture against Bath. With the weather starting to become warmer and the Six Nations Championship in full swing, it’s already starting to feel like springtime, and I hope you are all still happy and healthy at home – and perhaps looking forward to a home-cooked Sunday Roast after today’s lunchtime kick-off!
After a couple of false starts in 2021, it’s a fantastic feeling to finally be back on home soil for the first time this year. A very unfortunate string of cancellations has meant we have not been able to run out at the Gardens since a Boxing Day win over Worcester over two months ago, and I know how much the squad have missed playing on our fabulous turf.
We out-fought, out-scrummed, and out-tackled the European and Premiership champions in what has to go down as one of the best Northampton performances in recent memory.John White, Chairman
Despite playing three straight matches on the road, it has been brilliant to see the strides forward that Chris Boyd and his side have taken in recent weeks. Returning home from Gloucester, Wasps and Exeter Chiefs with three wins to our name is no mean feat, and particularly in last week’s victory down in Devon – our first at Sandy Park since 2014 – we saw a huge amount of character in this team to defend so admirably for long periods of the game. We out-fought, out-scrummed, and out-tackled the European and Premiership champions in what has to go down as one of the best Northampton performances in recent memory – and I must tip my cap to our Scrum Coach, Matt Ferguson, and Defence Coach, Ian Vass, who have clearly been working extremely hard with the team in these all-important areas.
Our scrum-half Alex Mitchell was promptly called up into England’s Six Nations camps after the match for the remainder of the Championship, so I must extend my congratulations to him on that accomplishment and I hope we can celebrate a first cap at international level – which would be richly deserved – for Alex soon. There was more good news this week from within the performance department, as the Club was able to announce our second new signing in as many weeks, with versatile forward Karl Wilkins set to return to Franklin’s Gardens in the summer. Karl came through our academy here before a seven-year sojourn over in France, and we hope that in him we might have discovered another hidden gem from ProD2 following the signing of Shaun Adendorff last summer. Karl joins Oísin Heffernan as our second new signing of the season, with Oísin already on deck in Northampton training with the squad after making the switch from Notthingham – a warm welcome to him!
It was also wonderful to see no fewer than 13 Saints turning out for Bedford Blues last weekend for the first time since the two clubs announced a new strategic partnership last year. Thanks to the pandemic it has been a long time coming and a lot of hard work has been done by our academy and medical departments to reach this point, but with an opening preseason victory for Bedford last week, four Saints on the scoresheet, and Tui Uru and Ethan Grayson sharing the man-of-the-match award, it was a fantastic start. Game-time is invaluable for our young players, some of whom have not run with the ball in anger for over a year, so I can’t wait to see how some of our brightest prospects can showcase their talents while also honing their potential just down the road.
The good news is that there is now light at the end of the tunnel and – whatever happens – we will be ready to receive supporters back at Franklin’s Gardens as soon as it is safe to do so.John White, Chairman
Away from the rugby, it would be remiss of me not to mention the government’s roapmap out of this latest lockdown which was revealed on Monday. While the prospect of still being without any crowds from now until May is frustrating, the good news is that there is now light at the end of the tunnel and – whatever happens – we will be ready to receive supporters back at Franklin’s Gardens as soon as it is safe to do so. This latest guidance also gives us great confidence about returning to something close to normality for the 2021/22 season, and the Club is looking forward to going back on sale with Season Tickets and Hospitality products in the not-too-distant future. We are also delighted to see schools reopen (I am sure many of you who have been charged with home-schooling recently feel the same way!) and the pathway laid out for the safe return of organised sport, as it enables our Community and Foundation departments to get back to what they do best in supporting the people of Northamptonshire and helping as many youngsters as possible enjoy the game of rugby.
Back to today’s game though, and another stern test awaits us this afternoon against Bath. Like we did last weekend against Exeter, our players will have to front up and prepare for another physical performance against an attritional side from the West Country. But despite losing out here in the autumn, our recent home record against Bath is very strong, and I have complete confidence with the wind in our sails that we can keep our great form going today.
So please, wherever you are this afternoon, join me in throwing all your support behind the entire squad for the game as they chase a win that would keep us in the play-off places at the midway point of the Premiership season.
Come on you Saints!