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Mark Darbon: Read the Chief Executive's programme notes

With Northampton under the national spotlight this evening, Saints chief executive Mark Darbon is relishing the prospect of a huge night of sport for the whole Town.

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

Good evening and welcome back to Franklin’s Gardens for tonight’s Gallagher Premiership clash against London Irish!

There’s nothing quite like a Friday evening match under the lights here at the Gardens. I know many of you prefer a kick-off time of 3pm on Saturday afternoon – and indeed we will always lobby Premiership Rugby for this time slot – but that said, I personally do love the special buzz around the ground that comes from playing on a Friday evening on our own turf. The BT Sport cameras have returned to Northampton again this evening; the ninth time in ten home fixtures so far this season, which is clearly testament to the fabulous rugby we’re playing at the Gardens – we are a side people want to watch, and what a pleasure that is!

"It’s fantastic to see both Saints and the Cobblers doing so well. Let’s hope we’re celebrating together at the final whistle."

Mark Darbon, Chief Executive

This is a big night for sport in the Town. At 8pm tonight our friends and neighbours, the Cobblers, kick off their fourth round FA Cup tie against Derby County. As a big Man Utd fan it was tough to resist going to watch Wayne Rooney in action one final time, but of course Saints won out! It’s fantastic to see both Saints and the Cobblers doing so well, and we wish them the very best of luck this evening. Let’s hope we’re celebrating together at the final whistle.

Please be aware though that as a result of the clash, we’re bound to experience some congestion on the roads around Franklin’s Gardens later on tonight. So please be patient; our stewards and traffic management staff will be working hard to ensure you get out of the car parks as quickly as possible. And if you’re not in a rush to get home, then please do stay at the ground until the roads are clearer. It’s a Friday night after all, and we have some excellent entertainment booked in our Supporter Village!

With the Six Nations Championship just around the corner, you’ll notice that tonight’s team sheet is missing a few familiar names. Huge congratulations have to go to Courtney Lawes and Lewis Ludlam for being recalled to the England squad, not to mention Dan Biggar and Rory Hutchinson for their Wales and Scotland selections respectively, but in particular it was fantastic to see George Furbank, Alex Moon, Fraser Dingwall and Alex Mitchell all called up by Eddie Jones for the first time.

We are incredibly proud to have the Club so well represented, and we wish them all the very best of luck for the forthcoming campaign. These selections also create opportunities for more youngsters within our squad to step into the limelight, so I’m excited to see the likes of Alex Coles, Ollie Sleightholme and JJ Tonks getting some game time tonight.

"The best way to get behind the squad is by renewing your season ticket for next season; if we are going to meet our ambitions of challenging for major honours, we need to keep building this momentum."

Mark Darbon, Chief Executive

It is that time of year again, and you may well have seen that our Season Tickets went on sale for the 2020/21 campaign on Thursday. I’m delighted to confirm that we have frozen our child and junior category Season Tickets as we look to continue to capture the imagination of the next generation of Saints supporters here in Northampton and beyond. It has been definitely been noticeable this season that Franklin’s Gardens has been so consistently full – and playing in front of a boisterous crowd has definitely helped with our home form. The best way to get behind the squad is by renewing your season ticket for next season; if we are going to meet our ambitions of challenging for major honours, we need to keep building this momentum.

Earlier this week we welcomed our new defence coach, Ian Vass, back to the Gardens. Ian’s first day on the job was Wednesday, and Chris Boyd tells me he has already settled in well. Our thanks must go to Jake Sharp for his excellent work filling in since the departure of Alan Dickens – he now returns to his role within our Academy with some top level experience under his belt. Many of you will remember Ian from his playing days in Black, Green and Gold, but since retiring from playing he has established himself as one of the best young English coaches around and we’re very fortunate to have secured his signature. On that subject, the Club also announced our first new signing for next season this week in Nick Auterac. Nick is a talented young prop who will provide plenty of competition for the loosehead jersey – and I am told he is as strong as an ox!

After a brilliant second-half performance last weekend in Lyon, I’m delighted to report that we have qualified for the knock-out stages of the Heineken Champions Cup for the first time since 2016. To qualify from such a difficult pool is a fantastic achievement and I am sure you will all join me in passing on my congratulations to all the players and coaching team – we’re just three games from glory! Details of how to get your hands on tickets for our quarter-final match-up against Exeter will be released by the Club as soon as we have them.

"It was important that a decision was made to ensure that everybody can once again focus on the game of rugby, which we all love."

Mark Darbon, Chief Executive

Despite a week of such good news for Northampton Saints, it would be remiss of me not to comment on the story that has dominated the headlines in recent days. We are supportive of the decision that has been reached by Premiership Rugby and Saracens to relegate Sarries from the league at the end of this season. While no-one likes to see any club relegated – particularly because the impact can be so far-reaching – we are pleased that strong, decisive action has been taken. The salary cap ensures a level playing field for all clubs, and once the nature and scale of Saracens’ breaches became clear, it was important that a decision was made to ensure that everybody can once again focus on the game of rugby, which we all love.

We now need to move forward collectively in what is a crucial time for the Premiership. With negotiations for a new TV broadcast rights deal now firmly on the horizon, it is vital that we focus on showcasing the value and attractiveness of our league, which remains the most competitive in the world.

And so back to tonight, and our opponents; London Irish. We boast an outstanding record against the Exiles, and remain the only side in the Premiership unbeaten at home in league action this season. But the coaches and players know that resting on our laurels at a key juncture in the season when so many internationals are away representing their countries, is simply not an option. After a stuttering performance against Benetton, Chris Boyd and the entire squad are desperate to put on a show of quality for you all here tonight.

So please get behind those wearing Black, Green and Gold tonight, as you always do, and roar them to another famous win at the Gardens.

Come on you Saints!

Mark Darbon
​Chief Executive