How things are shaping up at Saints during the strangest of pre-seasons

The strangest pre-season in rugby history? Yes, probably.

Monday, 9th November 2020, 1:29 pm
Piers Francis broke the record in the Blakiston Challenge (pictures: Northampton Saints)

Gallagher Premiership clubs are getting to grips with a build up to a fresh campaign like no other.

Limited training time, barely any pre-season fixtures and constant Covid-19 testing means preparations are like never before.

So how are things shaping up at Saints and what are they up to before the big season opener at Sale Sharks on November 20?

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Chris Boyd and Mark Darbon paid their respects at the Remembrance ceremony

Chris Boyd's boys finished last season in alarming fashion, slipping down the standings before eventually ending the campaign in eighth.

Their final-day fixture at Gloucester was forfeited through no fault of their own, and since then the players have been given their mandatory rest period.

But few will have been able to do what players traditionally do during the close-season, which is soak up some sun in foreign climes.

Travelling is obviously not what it was, and the Saints squad have hardly had a lengthy break to refresh their minds and bodies and get their tan game on.

Shaun Adendorff clearly enjoyed school photo day at Saints

But supporters will hope that they were able to push the reset button before they started to return to Franklin's Gardens.

The majority of the Saintsmen were back at the Gardens from October 26, with fitness sessions taking place.

November 2 saw the return of full training as preparations really started to ramp up, with Covid testing back on the schedule once a week.

The first full week of training culminated in a race that would be seen as the stuff of nightmares by any normal, non-rugby-playing human.

The Blakiston Challenge is an annual event at Saints and it tests the endurance of every player to the limit.

It takes its name from Saints great and First World War hero, Sir Arthur 'Freddie' Blakiston, who was awarded the Military Cross in 1918, having risked his own life to save numerous others under heavy fire.

Piers Francis was the winner, smashing the previous record as he showed his fitness is currently on-point.

The previous year's Challenge was won by Reuben Bird-Tulloch, with Dan Biggar the man who grabbed the glory back in 2018.

But it is Francis who now holds the title and the bragging rights in the Saints dressing room.

The Challenge was part of a busy first week back, with the Saints players put in front of the cameras last Wednesday for the annual school photo day.

And judging by the pictures, some absolutely loved it!

There was a Remembrance ceremony on Tuesday as key figures at Franklin's Gardens such as CEO Mark Darbon, director of rugby Chris Boyd and co-captain Alex Waller paid their respects.

Saints made sure the event took place before Lockdown 2 kicked in on Thursday.

The new national restrictions haven't changed things too much in terms of life in the Gardens bubble, which will play host to the one and only pre-season hit-out this Friday (kick-off 2pm).

Worcester Warriors will come to town for a behind-closed-doors game that will consist of four 30-minute periods.

That will give every available member of the Saints squad a chance to blow off the cobwebs a week before the big battle at the AJ Bell Stadium.

The first media session ahead of the new season takes place tomorrow (Tuesday) with Alex Waller and Alex Coles expected to be present on a Zoom call.

And then next week, the coverage really starts to build ahead of the curtain raiser.

Keep and eye out on this website for all of the news and views that you need as Saints bid to get off to a flying start at a stadium where wins have been hard to come by in recent years.