Northampton Saints chief executive Mark Darbon is relishing the return of knockout rugby to Franklin's Gardens, as the men in Black, Green and Gold host Ulster Rugby in a winner-takes-all European Challenge Cup quarter-final.
A socially-distanced ‘hello’ to you from Franklin’s Gardens ahead of tonight’s European Challenge Cup quarter-final match against Ulster.
Of course, we miss having all of you here to pack out the stands at every fixture we play behind closed doors – but as knockout rugby returns to the Gardens for the first time this season, the unique atmosphere you create under the floodlights when there is silverware on the line will be especially missed!
While last weekend’s harum-scarum match against Dragons might not have been good for my blood pressure, it was certainly a stark reminder of the magic that knockout rugby can bring as we head into the business end of this season. With a prestigious European trophy now just three victories away, I am really excited to see our squad give everything they have out on the field against one of the most powerful teams in the Northern Hemisphere.
“Last weekend’s harum-scarum match against Dragons was certainly a stark reminder of the magic that knockout rugby can bring.”Mark Darbon, Northampton Saints Chief Executive
No doubt you will miss being a part of the occasion tonight, but there is certainly cause for optimism on that front, as this coming Monday the country progresses to the next stage of the roadmap for restrictions being lifted. The good news – as we look to return to normality – is that you can already secure your spot to be here with us again at Franklin’s Gardens next season after Season Tickets for 2021/22 went on sale again last week. The safe and emotional return of supporters to Franklin’s Gardens is set to be one of the greatest events in the Club’s history – so there has never been a better time to come together and get behind Saints. For more information or to purchase your new Season Ticket, please visit the Club’s website.
Hopefully you will have seen the exciting news coming out of our Senior Academy earlier this week, as the Club announced that five youngsters would joining the set-up on a full-time basis for the start of next season. A very warm welcome to Geordie Irvine, Emeka Atuanya, Tom Lockett, Matthew Arden and Jake Garside, who have all progressed through our junior ranks and have international honours at age-group level. They start training with our first-team squad from July onwards, and I am sure that, like me, you are looking forward to seeing what the future holds for them in Black, Green and Gold.
Meanwhile there was one further arrival in the Academy this week, as English-qualified back row Duane Willemsen landed in Northampton all the way from Australia. At just 20 years old and almost 130kgs, Duane boasts some significant physical attributes already, and I’ve no doubt our talented coaches can bring the best out of him in the months ahead.
“Our thoughts continue to be with the loved ones of Frank Packman and Clive Patrick Daniels at this difficult time.”Mark Darbon, Northampton Saints Chief Executive
In less happy news, I wanted to take the opportunity to pass on my sincere condolences, on behalf of everyone at Northampton Saints, to the family and friends of Frank Packman and Clive Patrick Daniels – who both sadly passed away recently. These were two Club legends, having each worn the Black, Green and Gold jersey on more than 300 occasions – two of only 23 players in our long history to do so. Saints wore black armbands last weekend at Rodney Parade in tribute to them, but our thoughts continue to be with their loved ones at this difficult time.
A quick reminder for those of you who signed up for next week’s Online Supporter Forum that the event will be held on Tuesday evening. Registration is now closed but all those who secured a spot should receive their dial-in invitations this weekend.
But back to tonight’s game, and without doubt a huge test awaits us against Ulster. They showed what they were all about in last weekend’s ruthless victory over Harlequins in their Round of 16 match, and arrive at the Gardens in good form following the conclusion of the PRO14 season. Packed full of Ireland internationals, Ulster offer a serious threat all over the park – but while we know tonight’s game is sure to be a real arm-wrestle, the intensity always goes up a notch around the training ground when a knockout clash awaits, and this week in Northampton has been no different.
So, wherever you are, enjoy the match…and come on you Saints!!