Mark Darbon has vented his frustration after the final Northampton game of the restarted Gallagher Premiership last Sunday was cancelled due to the coronavirus outbreak at Sale.  

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The Sharks played at Franklin’s Gardens last week before it emerged that 16 of their players and three staff member had tested positive for the virus, an illness that forced a number of Northampton players into self-isolation and forced them to concede a 20-0 walkover to Gloucester. 

Club CEO Darbon has now addressed the issue in an open letter to Northampton supporters, laying the blame for the cancellation at the door of Sale after their infections breached the Saints bubble.  

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“The decision to forfeit our final game against Gloucester on Sunday was incredibly frustrating and not the way we wanted the season to end,” wrote Darbon in a 1,300-word letter published on the Saints club website. 

“But with only two front row players available for selection, owing to a long injury list and the need for a number of members of the squad to self-isolate as a result of the risk of Covid-19 infection following our fixture against Sale, we were left no viable alternative. 

“I’m proud of the work our medical and operational teams have done to ensure a safe and secure environment here at Franklin’s Gardens, plus the responsibility our players and staff have demonstrated to maintain the integrity of our ‘bubble’. So, to lose our final fixture as a result of an outbreak at another club is extremely disappointing.

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“It’s been particularly hard to take because we were determined to end the season on a high. The recent run of poor results on the pitch has been incredibly frustrating for us all. After plenty of optimism during the lockdown period, when the playing group put in so much hard work to try to hit the ground running again after the hiatus, the remainder of the season has not played out the way we hoped. 

“However, there are plenty of reasons to remain optimistic and our director of rugby, Chris Boyd, is typically calm and bullish about what the future holds. As we look ahead, it’s worth noting that this season our matchday squads had the youngest average age of all of the clubs which finished above us. 

“As such, experience may not be on our side – and perhaps that has shown at times over the last few weeks – but I have every confidence in our coaches, our staff and the players themselves to turn things around.”

Switching to the concerning financial outlook for rugby in England, a situation exacerbated by the UK Government’s decision to stop fans attending matches until the new year at the earliest, Darbon called on Northampton fans to canvas politicians to ensure the sport gets funding assistance to survive the crisis. 

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“Despite the challenges we face, I remain confident that we will get through them. We feel confident that we have the right strategy in place, with a very strong group of staff to deliver it.

“We were in a strong position before this crisis – with limited debt, a supportive group of shareholders, and 18 months of really promising commercial growth; we have wonderful support from our loyal commercial partners, our box holders and seasonal members and, of course, our fervent supporter base; and we have taken sensible, albeit extremely difficult, decisions over the past few months to streamline the organisation and lower our cost base. 

“In short, we believe we can navigate the difficult period in front of us and come out stronger on the other side. Of course, it will not be easy. So to help us in the short term we are also working to secure an emergency financial support package from the government, and we are actively seeking to identify any innovative approaches that may accelerate the return to crowds.”

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