Northampton Saints chief executive Mark Darbon looks ahead to the return of supporters to Franklin's Gardens this evening, as the men in Black, Green and Gold take on Bordeaux-Bègles.
Good evening and welcome back to Franklin’s Gardens for our opening Heineken Champions Cup encounter of the season as we welcome Bordeaux-Bègles to Northampton.
It gives me, and everyone connected to the Club, an enormous amount of pleasure to finally open the doors again this evening and start safely welcoming our supporters back to the ground. Tonight’s game may not be in front of the raucous full house that we have become accustomed to on a typical Saints’ matchday, but never before have we looked forward to hosting 2,000 of our loyal supporters more than we do today. Undoubtedly, tonight looks and feels a bit different, but it is our great pleasure to host you for our opening game in Europe. We really have missed you all!
Despite the very welcome return of supporters to Franklin’s Gardens, elsewhere in the league and at other sports venues, I would urge supporters to recognise that the war against this virus is far from over. Yes, a vaccine programme has started to be rolled out, but in the meantime, we must continue to remain vigilant to control the spread of Covid-19.
As such, for those returning tonight we ask that you be cautious and to follow all the guidelines that have been clearly communicated to everyone. This includes the wearing of face coverings everywhere in the stadium, observing social distancing and obeying the instructions from our stewards and volunteers. We want Franklin’s Gardens to be as safe an environment as possible for our supporters to watch rugby, with the aim of welcoming larger crowds in the near future. Observing our code of conduct and acting responsibly in the stadium will almost certainly help us achieve this ambition faster.
After a very frustrating start to the Premiership campaign, we hope a change in competition will provide a fresh impetus to get the win that can kick-start our season. Tonight’s opponents are a formidable outfit with a typically strong set of French forwards, so I hope you’re planning on really getting behind the team.
From a playing perspective it is great to welcome Dan Biggar and Sam Matavesi back from international duty and I am also very pleased to see Courtney Lawes back in the line-up having recovered from injury. Congratulations must also go to Tom Collins who made his 100th appearance last Friday night – a perfect example of the important role our Academy plays in producing the next generation of players.
I want to finish with some thanks. Firstly, I would again like to say thank you to all of our supporters, sponsors and partners who have been spectacular in their backing of the Club during the past nine months; it has been humbling to see how the Saints family has really pulled together. Secondly, I want to recognise all of the staff at Saints who have worked tirelessly over many months to ensure we can safely welcome crowds back to the stadium tonight. I am incredibly proud of their wide-ranging efforts to safeguard the future of this great Club during these incredibly challenging times.
We March Together.