As Northampton Saints welcome back two familiar faces in Pat Lam and Bruce Reihana this afternoon, chairman John White is in a reflective mood ahead of an all-important Gallagher Premiership clash.
Read John's welcome and more in today’s official matchday programme, on sale for £3.50...
Good afternoon and welcome back to Franklin’s Gardens for this afternoon’s Gallagher Premiership fixture against Bristol Bears.
Normally at this time of year we would be much further ahead in the Premiership season, but with the Rugby World Cup moving everything back this term, the calendar can be a little deceptive. I know Chris Boyd and his coaches are satisfied with how we’ve begun the league campaign, but there is still a long way to go in the Premiership – in fact, we are not even halfway through – so it’s important to stay focused and not to get carried away with the excellent start we’ve made.
"There is still a long way to go in the Premiership – we are not even halfway through – so it’s important to stay focused."John White
A very warm welcome to our visitors, Bristol, this afternoon and particularly to their head coach Pat Lam and skills coach Bruce Reihana – two former Saints and Club legends. It is fitting to see Pat walk back through the Franklin’s Gardens gates as we celebrate 20 years since he and his teammates wrote themselves into Northampton folklore by lifting the Heineken Cup. He led us to glory on what was one of the most important days in the Club’s history, and we are very much looking forward to welcoming back the squad of 2000 to the Gardens next month as our guests for the Wasps match here.
As part of the celebrations we are holding a dinner in their honour earlier that week – there are still some tables remaining, which you can enquire about through our sales team. Let’s hope they inspire us to glory later this year! Exeter Chiefs are our next opponents in the quarter-finals at Sandy Park in April. I hope as many of you as possible can make the trip down to the West Country for what will surely be a really exciting contest. We have over 3,000 tickets to sell as part of our allocation, and your support will be absolutely vital to the squad if we are to pick up an away victory.
With the Six Nations now in full swing it would be remiss of me not to congratulate all our players who have received call-ups to represent their countries – especially Courtney Lawes, George Furbank, Lewis Ludlam, Dan Biggar and Rory Hutchinson, who have all featured in the opening two rounds of the Championship. The Under-20s, led by Alan Dickens, have also got off to a brilliant start winning away at world champions France and then backing that up with another victory against Scotland. It’s fantastic to see another three young Saints involved in JJ Tonks, Manny Iyogun and Ollie Sleightholme, and I gather several of our other Academy players have been involved in training with them too.
"Last year we saw over 5,000 people come through the gates for the match against Scotland, and I hope we can top that figure next week when Ireland are in Town!"John White
We’re thrilled to be hosting the Under-20s’ third match here at Franklin’s Gardens on Friday. Last year we saw over 5,000 people come through the gates for the match against Scotland, and I hope we can top that figure next week when Ireland are in Town! Tickets can be purchased from the usual places either online or at our ticket office.
You may have seen since our last home match that the Club announced the first headliners in the summer series of concerts at Franklin’s Gardens; the Pussycat Dolls. The group have sold an astounding 54 million records worldwide and been streamed over a billion times, so it’s hard to believe they will be here at the Gardens in July! I hope to be here to see the show; I’m told they are an excellent live act.
Franklin’s Gardens is now one of the leading multi-purpose venues in the heart of England, and it’s vital we continue to use the stadium away from matchdays for non-rugby events like this. Concerts are just one way of doing this; last year we hosted mass-participation events like Tough Mudder as well as a couple of outdoor cinema evenings. Watch this space as we are set to announce more live acts in the coming weeks!
But back to today, and a really important match for us against Bristol. I know the squad are desperate to bounce back after a frustrating defeat against London Irish, and going into the clash this has all the hallmarks of a blockbuster. Saints and Bears are two teams with everything to play for, who both play a very optimistic brand of rugby – let’s hope the weather stays fair and we get an end-to-end, free-flowing match!
Enjoy the game.