As the side prepare to take to Franklin's Gardens for the first time in 2020, Northampton Saints chairman John White is looking forward to the all-important European clash this afternoon.
Read John's welcome and more in today’s official matchday programme, on sale for £3.50...
Good afternoon and a very warm welcome to Franklin’s Gardens for today’s crucial Champions Cup game against Benetton Rugby.
With just two games to go, including today, a win this afternoon keeps us in the hunt for quarter-final place and knockout European rugby. But, be under no illusion, Benetton are a talented side packed full of international talent and will present an enormous physical challenge for our forwards today. We were fortunate to sneak a win in Treviso a couple of months ago thanks to a last-minute Dan Biggar penalty, so let’s hope it’s not quite as tight today.
In the modern game, with so many fixtures selected for television broadcast, it’s not as unusual as it once was to have a Sunday lunchtime kick-off. As something of a traditionalist, I always prefer a Saturday 3pm but, coming of the back of last weekend’s nail-biting encounter at the Ricoh Arena I am pleased the squad have had six days to prepare for this fixture. We all know the physical and mental demands placed on the modern-day player and an extra day’s preparation can be critical to performance.
"It is particularly pleasing to see Harry Mallinder back in a Saints Jersey for first time in 15 months."John White
The squad looks to be in good shape though and I am delighted to see a couple of faces we haven’t seen for a while returning from injury today. It is particularly pleasing to see Harry Mallinder back in a Saints Jersey for first time in 15 months. Harry has rehabbed diligently to get himself back to full fitness - in what can be a difficult time for a player – so make sure you give him plenty of support today.
I am delighted to welcome back Ian Vass who has been appointed as our new defence coach. Ian joins us later this month and is someone who knows the history and culture of our great Club well, having pulled on a Saints Jersey 57 times during two spells at Franklin’s Gardens. He was a talented scrum-half in his playing days, but is now regarded as one of the leading young defence coaches in the northern hemisphere. I am sure he will complement our existing coaching set-up and I wish him all the very best of luck in his new role. Our thanks must go to Jake Sharp who has done an excellent job coaching defence in the interim and will surely continue to progress at Saints given his obvious high potential.
"I am told by the Academy coaches there is plenty of young talent to be excited about, so watch this space."John White
I would like to extend my congratulations to JJ Tonks and Ollie Sleightholme who have been called into the England under-20s squad for the forthcoming Six Nations Championship. We look forward to seeing them both in action when we welcome back former Saints coach Alan Dickens and his side to the Gardens on Friday 21 February as they take on Ireland in the third round of the tournament. Tickets for that game can be purchased in the usual places.
It was also great to see our Under-18’s campaign got up and running with a resounding win over Yorkshire Carnegie in Keighley over Christmas. Despite a couple of narrow losses since then, I am told by the Academy coaches there is plenty of young talent to be excited about, so watch this space. As I’ve said before, the work being done by Mark Hopley and his team in our Academy set-up is simply outstanding and is providing the rock-solid foundation for the future growth of our great club.
But back to today, I know Chris and the team are keen to put in a big performance this afternoon so let’s do our bit too and really get behind the lads.
Come on you Saints!