Defiant Mallinder insists current Saints side would beat his double-winning team

Saints boss Jim Mallinder will look to steer his team to victory against Leicester Tigers today (picture: Kirsty Edmonds)
Saints boss Jim Mallinder will look to steer his team to victory against Leicester Tigers today (picture: Kirsty Edmonds)

Jim Mallinder believes his current Saints side would beat the team that won the double in 2014.

But the director of rugby knows competition is increasing all the time as he bids to take his club back to the heights they enjoyed a few years ago.

Mallinder, who took over at Saints in the summer of 2007, steered the club to its first Premiership title and a Challenge Cup crown in 2014.

But they have not won a trophy since and after topping the regular-season table in 2015, they have finished fifth and seventh respectively.

However, Mallinder feels this season's squad is as strong as ever.

He said: "You do look back and you think 'why were we successful and why are we not doing quite as well at the moment?', and it would be daft of us not to do that.

"But looking at our squad, looking at the new people we've brought in, we have got that firepower.

"There are always one or two players who stand out individually, but it's not about individuals.

"For the strength of a Samu Manoa, of a Louis Picamoles, there's weaknesses as well, and as a coach you realise that more than what the general supporter does.

"But, in general, I think we've got a squad as strong as what we've had in the past.

"We've improved as a team, we've improved the way we play and I'm convinced that if we put our team out and played against the team of five or six years ago, this team would win because the game has changed so much.

"But the competition has improved and you've got to be even better."

Pressure has mounted on Mallinder and his fellow Saints coaches during the past couple of seasons.

And it ramped up an extra notch last Saturday, when Saints were beaten 55-24 by Saracens in this season's Premiership curtain raiser.

"We've got no doubt that the competition is challenging, professional rugby is all about winning and if you're not winning, the pressure comes at you," Mallinder said.

"We're all aware of it, but that's why we're all involved, because we like that challenge.

"Personally, if I didn't enjoy that challenge, I'd have stayed being a teacher.

"It's fantastic. It's why you do this thing.

"There is a bit of madness in it, it does stop you sleeping at night and you do have various issues - fans are not happy, but that's the sport we live in.

"We know what happened last weekend, but the good thing is we've got a game coming up and we've got to improve."

Mallinder has been the subject of criticism from some Saints supporters on social media.

"An example is our coaches," he said. "We played Saturday, Monday we were in early, the coaches drive up to Sale at 5pm to watch the Wandies play, they have some fish and chips, go and watch the game, get home at midnight and then they're in work for 7am the following day.

"People criticise the coaches for eating fish and chips during the game or going on their phone at half-time - and they're the things that frustrate you because I know how hard the coaches work and I know how hard the players work.

"I don't read it (social media criticism) myself, but it comes back to me."

And it is not just on social media where Mallinder takes flak.

He explained: "The problem for me in Northampton going out for a meal is that everyone I see reminds me about the game.

"It can be very nice when you're on a nice winning streak, but when you're losing, particularly in a place like Northampton, everyone knows the results and everyone knows me so you do have to try to find a place at some stage to switch off.

"I enjoyed playing as an amateur, I could get away, particularly living in Manchester, no one really knew you anywhere.

"This is different. There is scrutiny.

"I play tennis and people come to the rugby club, everyone knows it, it's the way it is, but I've chosen to come to a place like Northampton and I love being involved in it."

Mallinder is well aware that if you are to be a director of rugby, you have to have a thick skin.

And he added: "I can't worry about what the fans are thinking.

"I've got to work with the board, have a plan and be confident we are in a position where we can move forward.

"We'll be doing everything we can to win the game against Leicester this weekend.

"We know it's going to be difficult and if we lose, we're going to have to get everybody going again to beat Bath the following week.

"If we win it, it's absolutely fantastic, we'll have momentum and that will help us."

And win or lose against Leicester at Franklin's Gardens today, Mallinder knows he will have the backing of the Saints board.

"We've had a lot of changes at the club behind the scenes with a new chief exec (Mark Darbon) and a new chairman (John White), but they've always been 100 per cent supportive," he said.

"I've never had any debate.

"There will come a time where the board will decide or I will decide it's time for a change, but I'm in no place to move anywhere.

"The board has given me exactly what I want and we're together.

"You've just got to look at some of our signings and the way it's going.

"The Dan Biggar signing (which was announced on Wednesday) shows how positive we are and we're looking forward to the future.

"You've got to look early for signings and you've got to get stuck into big names, sometimes a year in advance.

"Of course we can't speak to any of the Premiership players until after Christmas, but we're fortunate that Dan Biggar's not in the Premiership so we could."

But for now, Mallinder must focus on getting a result against Leicester today.

And he insists his current squad is capable of achieving what the supporters expect this evening and for the rest of the season.

"I do think we've got a squad that can get into the top four and win silverware," Mallinder said.

"I'll be so disappointed if the players don't react now.

"We need and we will see a reaction today.

"As soon as we saw the fixture list: Saracens away, Leicester at home, Bath at home - we knew they were going to be three massive games.

"There's no guarantee you're going to win, but we've got to make sure we stick together.

"We have got a good squad, we've got a happy squad, we know what we need to do to and hopefully we can do it this weekend."