Northampton Saints chief executive Mark Darbon is looking forward to seeing what 2019 holds in store at Franklin's Gardens.
Read Mark's welcome and more in tonight's official matchday programme, on sale for £3.50..
Hello and welcome to Franklin’s Gardens for tonight’s final European Challenge Cup pool match against Timisoara Saracens.
Happy new year to all of you – it feels a little late to still be saying that, but this is our first fixture on home soil in 2019 and it’s great to be back under the lights again for a Friday night match.
"Despite the weather, Timisoara Saracens were excellent hosts and we’re excited to see them again."Mark Darbon
Firstly, I’d like to extend a very warm welcome to our visitors from Romania. We obviously visited Timisoara in bizarre circumstances before Christmas – with the match getting cancelled due to heavy overnight snowfall – but despite the weather, Saracens were excellent hosts and we’re excited to see them again.
This will be the first time we’ve ever played Timisoara, and one of the most exciting things about European competition is the opportunity to take on fresh challenges. We cannot underestimate Saracens; they will have a big, physical pack of forwards who will relish a scrum contest and will hope to deny us a spot in the knock-out stages of the competition. After last weekend’s fantastic battle in Clermont, a bonus-point win guarantees us a spot in the quarter-finals as a best-placed runner up, so it’s all to play for tonight.
It’s been an important few weeks for us in terms of player recruitment and retention, and we were delighted to announce our first new signing in New Zealand’s Matt Proctor last week. Matt is a very exciting coup for us from the Hurricanes, and we are confident he will flourish here at Franklin’s Gardens. Also, in a very competitive market, we have retained another of our key players in Teimana Harrison. Tei is a truly dedicated professional athlete and embodies the Club’s values every time he pulls on a Black, Green and Gold jersey – so it’s brilliant news to have him at the Club for another three years. Moreover, our Academy is also looking to strengthen as far as possible and Simon Sinclair’s signing of Reuben Bird-Tulloch earlier this week proves that. Simon assures me he is one for us all to keep an eye on!
"Matt Proctor is a very exciting coup for us from the Hurricanes, and we are confident he will flourish here at Franklin’s Gardens."Mark Darbon
Congratulations to our international stars for their respective inclusions in England and Wales’ squads for the Six Nations; as ever we’re extremely proud of all their accomplishments and know they will represent the Club with distinction over the coming weeks. But a huge well done also has to go to Fraser Dingwall, Alex Coles, Ollie Sleightholme and Samson Ma’asi for their inclusion in England’s Under-20s squad for the 2019 Six Nations and World Championship. I’m very excited to see hopefully all of them pull on a white jersey here at Franklin’s Gardens in March as we host the England v Scotland clash on Northampton soil – tickets are already available for what’s sure to be a thrilling game from our ticket office.
Last – but by no means least – I wanted to extend warm congratulations to Kascie Higgins, who represented our wheelchair rugby team on the global stage last weekend. Kascie, who was also nominated for the Northampton Disabled Sportsperson of the Year a couple of months back, travelled out to Stockholm after being invited to play for the Gothenburg Lions by former international wheelchair rugby player Andreas Collin. This was a fantastic opportunity for Kascie to play for one of the most established clubs in the Swedish league, and one which was earned through a lot of hard work. Our wheelchair rugby coach, Jamie Higgins, was also invited to attend and support Gotherburg as an assistant coach, so we are hoping he can bring some of the new skills he learned back to our talented squad of players here in Northampton.
There’s no denying that the atmosphere under the lights here at Franklin’s Gardens is very special; the noise made by a sold-out crowd here during our victory over Exeter Chiefs at the end of December proved that. So, do enjoy tonight’s game and help create the same fierce buzz inside the ground by roaring on Saints once again.
We hope to see you back here next Saturday for our final Premiership Rugby Cup pool match – with our local rivals Leicester Tigers in town, there’s sure to be a firecracker of a game in store.
Come on you Saints!