Northampton bid for positive start on their Premiership return

Piers Francis talks about how he contracted COVID-19 last month

Northampton Saints will be aiming to kick off their Gallagher Premiership Rugby campaign on Friday night (November 20) in a much better way than their previous season ended.

Coronavirus issues meant they had to forfeit their final game of the 2019-20 season at Gloucester, having already suffered six straight Premiership defeats and a Quarter Final exit from the Heineken European Champions Cup.

And COVID-19 has certainly made an impact on the playing squad at Franklin's Gardens, not least with utility-back Piers Francis.

The 30 year old initially couldn't join up with England's training camp in October after contracting the virus. He was thankful it didn't affect his family.

Northampton Saints utility back Piers Francis Credit: PA

It was literally the day of going into England camp. I thought I didn't feel quite right, so I rang them up. We had done a test the day before and the results were due later that afternoon, so I just held fire in going in. And lo and behold the test came back positive.

I live in a small place but fortunately the fiancee and the little man didn't seem to get too many symptoms from it. So it was just me and it knocked me sideways for a little bit. I was in bed for a few daysFor me personally it was more of a natural sort of 'You get the flu, you're in bed for a few days. I wasn't allowed to exercise for the two weeks

It was more about getting back into the routine of things from that perspective. I didn't necessarily have a tight chest or a lasting cough. They weren't symptoms that I really had. It was just trying to get the body up and running again

Piers Francis, Northampton Saints

Francis will start at centre in the Saints' opening game at Sale Sharks

Director of Rugby Chris Boyd also has a tighter squad to work with going forward in the wake of the pandemic.

Northampton Saints Director of Rugby Chris Boyd embarks on his 3rd season at Franklin's Gardens Credit: PA

There's still a gap between some of the youngsters and the standard required for them to be competitive at Premiership level. so we're closing that gap as quickly as we can. We've reduced our squad because of the financial implications of COVID, we've reduced our squad by about five which is quite significant when you consider at any one time you could have fifteen per cent unavailable.

We've got eleven injuries which is pretty much north of fifteen per cent. But we've just got to adjust to what we've got at the moment.

Chris Boyd, Northampton Saints Director of Rugby

NORTHAMPTON SAINTS TEAM TO FACE SALE SHARKS - FRIDAY 20TH NOVEMBER

AJ Bell Stadium - 8.00pm kick-off

Backs

15 George Furbank14 Ahsee Tuala13 Matt Proctor12 Piers Francis11 Tom Collins10 James Grayson9 Henry Taylor

Forwards

1 Alex Waller (c)2 James Fish3 Paul Hill4 Alex Moon5 Api Ratuniyarawa6 Nick Isiekwe7 Tom Wood8 Teimana Harrison

Replacements:16 Reece Marshall17 Nick Auterac18 Owen Franks19 David Ribbans20 JJ Tonks21 Alex Mitchell22 Fraser Dingwall23 Harry Mallinder