Ahead of the Club’s final match of the decade, chief executive Mark Darbon looks back fondly on 12 months of progress for Northampton Saints – both on and off the pitch.
Read Mark’s welcome and more in today’s official matchday programme, on sale for £3.50...
Good afternoon and a very warm welcome back to Franklin’s Gardens for today’s Gallagher Premiership match against Gloucester Rugby!
"It should be fascinating watching the league’s best attack and best defence go toe-to-toe."Mark Darbon, Chief Executive
I hope you’ve all thoroughly enjoyed the holiday season so far and arrive today well rested and ready to roar Saints into the new year! Last year’s sold-out Christmas win over Exeter Chiefs was undoubtedly one of the highlights of the 2018/19 season, and I’m delighted that there will not be an empty seat in the house once again. I know it gives the squad, coaches and staff a huge boost to see the Gardens packed out for these blockbuster matches – and what a game we have in store this afternoon!
Gloucester, semi-finalists in the competition last year, are certainly top-four contenders again in 2019/20 and we’ll have to be at our very best to pick up a win. Everyone knows how threatening they are in attack, but – as Chris Boyd pointed out this week – not many people appreciate how tight-fisted they are in defence. The Cherry and Whites have given up the fewest tries against and line breaks in the Premiership so far this season, while our free-scoring Saints side have the most, so it should be fascinating watching the league’s best attack and best defence go toe-to-toe.
We’ve had three challenging weeks across the Heineken Champions Cup and Premiership competitions, but despite being on the wrong end of a few results, we are still sat second in the league standings and remain in an excellent position to qualify for the knock-out stages of Europe. One clear highlight of December for me so far though, was watching Tom Wood and Paul Hill run out in Dublin to make their 200th and 100th appearances for Northampton respectively. Woody and Hilly both have been wonderful servants for the Club. Woody has already written his place in Saints folklore over a ten-year career at Franklin’s Gardens and is currently midway through a richly-deserved Testimonial season, but for Hilly to have already brought up a century of Northampton caps at the age of just 24 is also a remarkable achievement. Huge congratulations to them both.
"Woody and Hilly both have been wonderful servants for the Club. Huge congratulations to them both."Mark Darbon, Chief Executive
Away from the first team, over the last month we’ve also seen our Wanderers and Under-18s sides get their seasons underway in their respective competitions. Both teams have already picked up important wins, and given our coaches’ enthusiasm for bringing through the next generation of Northampton stars here at Franklin’s Gardens, these matches for our development teams are really important to the Club. Not only do they provide the platform for our younger players to show off their talents, but playing for the Wanderers also allows those returning from long-term injuries to get some important minutes in Black, Green and Gold under their belts. I know many of our supporters were particularly thrilled to see Harry Mallinder back amongst the action for the Wandies, and it’s now surely only a matter of time before he returns to first-team action. He will be like a new signing for us.
Speaking of new signings, many of you will have been watching our new hooker Sam Matavesi over the last fortnight with keen interest. Sam was brought in from Cornish Pirates to provide some extra competition for places in a space where we’ve had some injuries, but he’s settled in superbly in the short time he’s been in Northampton, and we’re thrilled to have him here with us.
"Reflecting on the year I’m filled with pride at what we have achieved, and across the board Saints are trending in the right direction."Mark Darbon, Chief Executive
But back to today’s match; the last at the Gardens of 2019. This last 12 months have without doubt been the most successful, both on the pitch but also commercially, since I have been at the Club. Reflecting on the year I’m filled with pride at what we have achieved, and across the board Saints are trending in the right direction – but we know we still have a long way to go to achieve our aim of becoming the number one Club in Europe, and we will keep on working as hard as ever in 2020 to deliver that ambition for our supporters.
Warm up your vocal cords because this is a massive game in the context of our season, and the lads need your support to put their very best out on the field. Enjoy the game today and, for the last time in 2019, come on you Saints!