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Mark Darbon: Read the Chief Executive's programme notes

With Northampton Saints this week returning to a 3pm kick-off on Saturday afternoon, chief executive Mark Darbon cannot wait to see Franklin’s Gardens packed out once again.

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

Good afternoon and welcome back to Franklin’s Gardens for today’s Gallagher Premiership clash against Saracens.

As a bit of a traditionalist, it’s nice to be back to kicking-off at 3pm on a Saturday! I know a lot of our supporters feel the same way, so I hope you all enjoy making some memories this afternoon with your friends and families.

Our matches against Saracens are always incredibly popular fixtures, but it’s great to see an almost sold-out Franklin’s Gardens for today’s game – hopefully we can evoke the spirit of last season’s sold-out Premiership Rugby Cup final win! Sarries were also the visitors that day of course, and it was certainly one of the best days I have encountered while working at the Club. Speaking to the players and coaches, it always gives everyone in the squad a massive lift to see the stands packed to the rafters, and to hear the unique roar that only a full Franklin’s Gardens produces.

"Our matches against Saracens are always incredibly popular fixtures, but it’s great to see an almost sold-out Franklin’s Gardens today."

Mark Darbon

Despite the fact that they have already been relegated this season due to their breaches of the salary cap, this is going to be a really tough game against the reigning Premiership and European champions. Chris Boyd would be the first to admit that we have not been at our best in recent weeks, and if anything, the fact that they’re already preparing for a season in the Championship means that Saracens can play with no fear.

Saracens still have many dangerous players running out this afternoon at the Gardens, who deserve our respect as professional athletes. Regardless of where you stand on the salary cap issue, the league will certainly be weaker without them next year – it will be a great shame to potentially not see the likes of Owen Farrell, Maro Itoje, and the Vunipola brothers in the Premiership. It has not been good for rugby to see Sarries’ players jeered at away grounds this season; I would expect a different standard from the Gardens faithful so please be respectful of our opponents today.

On a brighter note, it’s been a real delight to see some of our own players thriving on the international stage in recent weeks. Courtney Lawes was outstanding for England in their victory over Ireland last weekend, picking up the man-of-the-match award. Dan Biggar has been as competitive as ever for Wales, and no doubt we will benefit from having him back today – as we will Rory Hutchinson, who got some game time with Scotland last weekend as they beat Italy over in Rome.

We were also very pleased to be able to announce four contract renewals this week; Harry Mallinder, Tom Collins, Paul Hill and Ahsee Tuala have all put pen to paper on deals to remain in Black, Green and Gold for the foreseeable future. It’s so important for the Club that we retain our best talent, and these four players have all been at the Gardens for a long time – in fact, they have almost 400 appearances and 25 combined seasons between them – so our supporters know just how big a part of the squad they are. Harry, Paul and Tom in particular are all still young and have plenty of potential to develop into even better players, so it’s great to see them all signing on for more.

"I know Chris Boyd holds Ben in the very highest esteem for his absolute professionalism, and he certainly will be missed around the Gardens when he hangs up his boots."

Mark Darbon

It would be remiss of me not to congratulate Ben Franks on one of the finest careers in the history of rugby, following his announcement this week that he will be retiring at the end of this season. Ben is one of only 21 people (alongside his brother and fellow Saint, Owen!) to have won the Rugby World Cup twice, and as well as earning almost 50 caps for the All Blacks and two Super Rugby titles from his time playing in New Zealand, he has proven his ability for the last five seasons since switching to the Premiership. I know Chris Boyd holds Ben in the very highest esteem for his absolute professionalism, and he certainly will be missed around Franklin’s Gardens when he hangs up his boots – not only for what he brings Saints on the pitch, but also for the expertise he is passing on to our younger front-row players every day in training.

I’m thrilled to say Season Tickets for the 2020/21 season are selling well. A huge thank you to the thousands of you who have already signed up for another year of fun at the Gardens – and for those of you yet to do so, I’d encourage you not to miss out on our extremely competitive Early Bird offering. Speaking of tickets, only a few spots remain at our 20th anniversary Heineken Cup dinner on Thursday 19 March. Visit our website now or contact our sales team to book your spot and celebrate the milestone of one of the greatest days in the Club’s history, alongside the players and coaches from the 2000 Saints squad who will be back together in Northampton for one night only.

But back to today, and here’s hoping we can return to winning ways this afternoon after a couple of frustrating weekends. Both teams are coming into this match off the back of heavy defeats, but having seen our players hard at work this week, I am confident our squad has the character to react well in front of our own supporters.

So please warm up your vocal chords once again for this vital encounter in our race for the Gallagher Premiership title.

We March On.

Mark Darbon
Chief Executive