Northampton Saints chairman John White is relishing a return to the Gallagher Premiership this afternoon after a month away from league action.
Read John's welcome and more in tonight's official matchday programme, on sale for £3.50...
Good afternoon and welcome back to Gallagher Premiership Rugby action at Franklin’s Gardens! It feels like a long time has passed since our last league match – indeed that clash with Wasps was over a month ago! – so we welcome Sale Sharks today full of excitement and anticipation.
Sharks are a gritty side and always represent a tough challenge, but look to have really stepped up a notch in recent months. With plenty of world-class talent within their ranks, they are currently on a five-game unbeaten streak in the league and indeed we have not beaten them in the Premiership for almost two years. But we are also unbeaten in five home matches in all competitions and if we play more of the free-scoring rugby we’ve been seeing in recent weeks I’m confident we’ll come out on the right side of the result.
Welcome back too to Franklin’s Gardens for the first time to our former coach, Dorian West – it will be strange seeing him sat on the opposition benches this afternoon! It’s great to see him making such an impact at Sale, although of course we hope things don’t go too well for him today.
I wanted to extend my congratulations to Courtney Lawes and Dan Biggar for their performances in the Six Nations so far. Both started for their countries last weekend and enjoyed fantastic victories to set up a captivating showdown in Cardiff. I’ve no doubt that skirmish will live up to the hype, and don’t forget we’ll be showing every minute of England v Wales in the Franklin’s Gardens bars following our game against Bath Rugby. Let’s just hope that, based on some of the shuddering hits he’s put in so far in the Championship, Courtney goes easy on Dan next week! Well done also to Alex Coles and Ollie Sleightholme who continued to impress for England under-20s last weekend, with Ollie running in what’s sure to be the first of many tries at this level.
We were this week able to announce two brilliant additions to the front row for next season. I was delighted to see loosehead prop Francois van Wyk renew his contract – the eleventh player to extend his deal this year, Francois is someone who continues to grow in Black, Green and Gold jersey, and it’s fantastic he will stay at the Gardens for two more years. Then later in the week we revealed that New Zealand tighthead Owen Franks will be joining the Club from the Crusaders. Owen is one of only 20 players to have won the Rugby World Cup twice, and after over 100 appearances in a decade as an All Black his pedigree cannot be doubted. He represents another huge coup for Saints and congratulations must go to Chris Boyd and Paul Shields for securing his signature.
Behind the scenes everyone at the Club continue to work their fingers to the bone to achieve success, and I’m sure many of you will have seen on the news that we have recently secured a new loan from Northamptonshire Borough Council.
Growing our commercial revenues is essential to our plan for the coming years, both through selling more rugby-related products (tickets, hospitality, sponsorships and so on) as well as improving our non-rugby revenues through the use of Franklin’s Gardens for conferences, meetings, private functions, and the occasional large-scale event – such as a concert.
We are very much on track to deliver in line with our forecasts of this plan, but in order to continue to fund growth and support our on and off pitch ambitions, we need the flexibility to further invest in our facilities. That’s where this loan comes in; it will enable us to push forward some important infrastructure projects, providing a further funding source alongside our supportive shareholders and our banking partner. So, thanks again to everyone at the council for listening to our proposals with interest and for getting on board with our vision for the future.
Finally, make sure you all mark Sunday 17 March in your diaries for the Premiership Rugby Cup final, and tickets are now on sale for that must-see game. The side showed their resilience last week to come back and beat Newcastle Falcons, and it’s a brilliant achievement to be able to host a final here at the Gardens – our first-ever final on home soil! Huge congratulations must go to this new coaching group and the entire squad of players; they’ll be relying on your fervent support when we welcome Saracens here next month, so make sure to secure your ticket as soon as possible.
Come on you Saints!