Northampton Saints chief executive Mark Darbon is relishing the return of the Gallagher Premiership to Franklin's Gardens after a long summer.
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 clash against Worcester Warriors! It feels like it’s been a very long time coming, but it’s a fantastic feeling to have Gallagher Premiership rugby back at the Gardens. Coincidentally, it was Worcester who were our visitors last time we ran out in the league just over five months ago – let’s hope for a similar result today!
"It feels like it’s been a very long time coming, but it’s a fantastic feeling to have Gallagher Premiership rugby back at the Gardens."Mark Darbon
Obviously, the weekend’s Gallagher Premiership action is not the only rugby taking place at the moment! I hope, like me, you have been enjoying the Rugby World Cup over in Japan, who have done an excellent job in hosting a spectacular tournament so far. Putting the rugby to one side, I would like to extend my congratulations to the organisers and World Rugby for staging such a wonderful event – especially given some of the adverse challenges they have faced. Anyone who has worked on delivering a large-scale event will know the complexities involved, so they deserve enormous credit.
Three Saints are still involved with England in Courtney Lawes, Lewis Ludlam and Piers Francis, one with Wales in Dan Biggar, and of course one with South Africa in Cobus Reinach. It was fantastic to see both Api Ratuniyarawa and Ahsee Tuala back around the ground this week after they returned from international duty with Fiji and Samoa respectively – I can confirm both are happy and healthy and ready to hit the ground running.
England of course took on the All Blacks this morning, and I hope as you read this, they have booked their spot in the World Cup final! There are some split loyalties in our changing room of course with Chris Boyd and Ben Franks rooting for New Zealand, but whatever the result I think that throughout the whole tournament the England squad have done our country proud. I’m looking forward to watching Wales vs South Africa tomorrow morning and hope to see Dan and Cobus going toe to toe.
"We’ve seen glimpses of his ability on the field, but off it Heinz has been a complete professional, training as hard as he was able and passing on his experience to some of our younger flanker."Mark Darbon
Back in Northampton there’s been plenty going on around the Gardens too, and we were absolutely delighted to announce this week that we have secured the services of Taqele Naiyaravoro for another two years. From the moment he arrived at Saints, ‘Big T’ has been a supporter favourite thanks to his destructive ball-carrying and try-scoring ability. On his day, he can win matches almost on his own and keeping him in Black, Green and Gold is a massive statement of intent – no doubt opposition defenders around the Premiership will not be so happy about the news!
However, this week we also announced that flanker Heinrich Brüssow has made the decision to retire from rugby with immediate effect. Heinz arrived at Franklin’s Gardens almost two years ago with a reputation as one of the best flankers in world rugby, but unfortunately – through no fault of his own – a run of injuries have hit him hard during his time in Northampton. We’ve seen glimpses of his ability on the field, but off it Heinz has been a complete professional, training as hard as he was able and passing on his experience to some of our younger flankers – such as Lewis Ludlam, who in particular has benefitted from his tutelage. Heinz did not want to let the team down by playing at less than 100 per cent, and we completely support he decision to step away from rugby earlier than he had intended.
Off the field, you may have seen that the Club announced our financial results recently. While we made an underlying loss (once you discount any income from the league’s deal with private equity firm CVC Capital Partners), these latest results show that Saints are continuing to move towards a brighter financial future. Turnover increased by £1.3million (or by 7.8%) during the 12 months to 31 May, representing a growth in revenue greater than that of the previous three seasons combined. That is extremely encouraging, but we must not rest on our laurels; it’s imperative in implementing our financial plan that the Club continues to grow profits and is innovative in finding new revenue streams. English rugby clubs are still operating in a very difficult financial environment. The challenge faces every Premiership club, not just Saints, and there will be more significant hurdles to jump in future. But we are on track and very much heading in the right direction.
But back to today’s match against Worcester – let’s hope the long wait for Gallagher Premiership rugby to return to the Gardens has been worth it! Warriors are always a dangerous outfit, and proved that they are not a side to be taken lightly by beating our own East Midlands rivals Leicester Tigers convincingly last weekend. Chris Boyd and his side are desperate to put on a show for you all this afternoon, but most importantly to make it two wins from two to kick-off the season, so do your very best to get behind them today!
Make some noise and we’ll see you back in a week for our next match against Harlequins.
Come on you Saints!