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Mark Darbon: Read the Chief Executive's programme notes

Northampton Saints chief executive Mark Darbon is looking forward to the start of a new European challenge and reflects on last week's Derby Day at Twickenham.

Read Mark's welcome and more in today's official matchday programme, on sale for £3.50...

Welcome to Franklin’s Gardens for the first fixture of this season’s European campaign!

The Challenge Cup is a competition in which the Club has enjoyed an impressive history, having lifted the trophy the last two times we were involved in 2014 and 2009, and we have every reason to be just as optimistic once again.

"These competitions are all about testing yourselves against different and challenging opposition."

Mark Darbon, Saints chief executive

A huge task undeniably awaits us first up, as we welcome Clermont Auvergne and their boisterous fans back to Franklin’s Gardens for the second straight season. Last year’s home match against Clermont was one of the highlights from my first season here; Northampton ran out 34-21 winners to beat the French side for the first time in our history – and Ben Foden’s amazing try after running from inside his own half is certain to go down in Saints folklore. So if today’s game is half as good as last year’s we are in for a treat, although there is no doubting the quality of our opponents. This may be a different competition to last year, but in Clermont we face one of the very best sides in Europe. They currently sit at the summit of the Top14 table after an impressive start to their season over in France, but these competitions are all about testing yourselves against different and challenging opposition. This should be a fabulous contest.

Looking back on last weekend’s Derby Day match at Twickenham, I was to extend my thanks to every member of the Saints family who supported this game. While unfortunately we could not provide the weather or the result to match the occasion, we saw the entire rugby family coming together to support a true Saintsman in Rob Horne. The fact that so many people turned out shows just how appreciated and respected Rob still is in Northampton, and it was a send-off befitting his qualities as a man and as a player. I spoke to Rob after the game and he was genuinely humbled by the occasion, and hugely thankful for all of the efforts that contributed to the day.

Earlier this week we announced that a significant six-figure sum was raised from the game for Rob. We are really proud of that total sum; it is far higher than we could have ever hoped for had we kept the game at Franklin’s Gardens, and I must commend the Club’s staff who worked tirelessly to put on such a fantastic event. And of course, my thanks go out to all of our supporters too – whether it was via individual donations, our auction, buying RH13 merchandise, waiting patiently in the rain to board a bus to get down to Twickenham, or volunteering on the day, the support Rob received was incredible.

"We hope that by hosting the Tyrells Premier 15s final we can inspire more interest in women’s rugby."

Mark Darbon, Saints chief executive

Tickets are already on sale for the 2018/19 Tyrells Premier 15s Final here at Franklin’s Gardens in April, and I wanted to take this opportunity to reiterate how excited we are to be hosting the match. Whether it’s getting more women and girls playing, coaching or volunteering, we hope that by hosting the showpiece final we can inspire more interest in women’s rugby – which continues to thrive across Northamptonshire and the East-Midlands. In August the Club held its first girl’s coaching camp and events like the Redrow Homes Girls 7s are hugely popular. I’m sure we can make the Tyrells Premier 15s Final another memorable occasion.

Our Club ballot for England’s Autumn Internationals is now open, so if you are a Season Ticket Holder don’t miss out on your opportunity to attend a home international clash at Twickenham Stadium by registering your interest. Successful entrants will be notified once the Club has received and processed its allocation of tickets from the Rugby Football Union.

Finally, I wanted to extend my congratulations to Fraser Dingwall, who made his first-team debut last weekend against Leicester Tigers. At just 19 years old, Fraser continues to impress everyone who comes across him, whether that be within our coaching team here at Franklin’s Gardens or the England Under-20s management group. He certainly has a bright future ahead of him in Black, Green and Gold, and testament should be paid to Simon Sinclair and Mark Hopley within our Academy set-up who continue to produce talented players like Fraser that are capable of making it to the very top of the game. Fraser became Saint number #1995 at Twickenham, and Dom Barrow will become #1996 this afternoon. So good luck Dom!

I hope you enjoy today’s game, and come on you Saints!
Mark Darbon
Chief Executive