Good afternoon and a very warm welcome back to Franklin’s Gardens for what is – sadly – the final home match of the 2020/21 season, as we welcome Exeter Chiefs to Northampton.
It feels like the end of the current campaign is coming around too soon, having only just been able to welcome 4,000 supporters back into the ground for the first time this year last weekend. The feeling of seeing thousands of you return to the Gardens was indescribable for me and for all of the Club’s staff, who have worked tirelessly in recent weeks and months to create a safe environment for everyone to return to the stadium to support Saints.
"The sight and sound of supporters chatting, smiling and laughing created the pre-game buzz that the team have been craving in recent months."Mark Darbon, Northampton Saints Chief Executive
From the first moment people began to trickle through the gates and throughout the warm-up, the sight and sound of supporters chatting, smiling and laughing created the pre-game buzz that the team have been craving in recent months. The reception for Alex Waller on his 300th appearance and the rest of the team when they ran out was incredible, and during key moments of the game – particularly after we scored, or repelled a Wasps opportunity – the chanting of the crowd was just the tonic Saints needed to complete a job well done. The win saw us guarantee our place in the Heineken Champions Cup for the third year running, a fine achievement for Chris Boyd and our coaching group.
It gives me great pleasure to say we are completely sold out of tickets for this afternoon’s match, with just a shade under 4,000 people set to bathe the stands in Black, Green and Gold again to cheer on the team for the final time this season. I’ve no doubt the atmosphere will be even better today, and you all will get the boys over the line once again!
This afternoon marks the final home match for a number of Saints who will be leaving the Club over the summer. I hope you will stay with us after the match for our annual post-match presentation where we can honour those moving on to pastures new next season, while we will also reward those players who have hit significant milestones this term with their Club caps. Please note that while, under current guidance, you will not be able to join us on the pitch after the match as usual, you can watch and show your appreciation from the stands. We ask that, unless you are leaving the ground, you are not tempted to move pitchside to ensure the correct social distancing protocols are observed.
"I’ve no doubt the atmosphere will be even better today, and you all will get the boys over the line once again!"Mark Darbon, Northampton Saints Chief Executive
As you may well have seen, Tom Wood and Sam Matavesi are two players who will not moving on from Franklin’s Gardens this summer, with the Club delighted to announce contract extensions for both this week. You will not need to be reminded of Woody’s achievements in Black, Green and Gold over the last decade; having a player of his experience who continues to help lead the group, as well as consistently delivering top-class performances on the pitch, is nothing short of remarkable for the Club. Meanwhile, Sam has been a revelation at hooker this season. After initially joining us from the Championship, he has become one of the first names on the team sheet for both Saints and Fiji in recent months, and I know he is one of the most-popular members of our playing group. Congratulations to both players and here’s to Woody and Sam continuing to thrive in Northampton colours!
Back to today’s match, and with our European qualification secure, the squad’s attentions are firmly on recording a season’s double over the reigning Premiership champions. For anyone who watched the narrow 13-12 win over Exeter at an extremely boggy Sandy Park back in February, it’s hard to imagine how conditions could be further apart this afternoon on a dry, fast deck at the Gardens. With a home semi-final at stake, Chiefs have plenty to play for today, but we’re still jostling for position in the league – and, crucially, still ahead of our friends up the road from Leicester on the ladder! So, I know we’ll be battling tooth and nail for another win this afternoon, and please join me in getting behind the lads and trying to make as much noise as a capacity crowd of 16,000.
Enjoy the game – we hope it will be the last with a restricted number of supporters in attendance.
And of course, for the final time on home soil this season, COME ON YOU SAINTS!