Mallinder's Saints have fresh top-four hope

Jim Mallinder saw his Saints side claim a crucial win at Sale last week (picture: Kirsty Edmonds)
Jim Mallinder saw his Saints side claim a crucial win at Sale last week (picture: Kirsty Edmonds)
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It was pretty much unthinkable when Saints were smashed at Newcastle last month, but the prospect of Jim Mallinder’s men making the Aviva Premiership top four now looks far more likely.

Following back-to-back wins, against Worcester Warriors and Sale Sharks, plus a few favourable results elsewhere, Saints are now just four points behind fourth-placed Bath.

And, hold on to your hats, Mallinder’s men have every chance of moving into the top four on the final weekend of this month.

Because although they haven’t beaten Leicester since December, 2014, losing their past six east midlands derbies, Saints will fancy their chances of taming the Tigers.

The Welford Road side were humbled at home by Exeter Chiefs last Friday and are particularly patchy this season.

Saints ended their Sale hoodoo last Friday, winning a league game at the AJ Bell Stadium for the first time since November, 2012.

And not only did they win it, 32-12 to be exact, they grabbed a bonus-point with the final play of the game, too.

With the likes of Louis Picamoles and George North to return in time to face the Tigers at Franklin’s Gardens, Saints should believe they can win that game.

And with Bath going to champions Saracens on the same weekend, it is not hugely unlikely that Saints could be sitting in the top four come the end of March.

“We always want to be top four and pushing for silverware,” said Saints boss Jim Mallinder.

“You’ve got to have high expectations and we’ve got that. The fans have got that as well and there have been certain games where we have disappointed and not played well.

“But we’re in this position where we’ve given ourselves a chance.

“We get our internationals back in a couple of weeks so that will boost us.

“We’ll look forward to playing Leicester. It’s always a massive game, a derby game and there’s a lot riding on that now.

“Hopefully the win against Sale will give us that push and the internationals will want to come back and join this team.”

The win at Sale was earned by a complete team performance.

It was without doubt Saints’ most impressive showing this season as they finally managed to ally solid defending with sharp attacking.

And Mallinder said: “The set piece was always going to be tight and there were a few mistakes on both sides, but we got our maul going and scored a good try from that so that was good.

“We played away from our scrum pretty well and put them under pressure.

“It was a good, controlled display.

“We knew it was going to be wet and the team played with real good control, which you need to do in these conditions.”

Stephen Myler attracted plenty of praise for how he steered Saints through the wet weather.

The ever-reliable fly-half kicked superbly from the tee and out of hand, grabbing 12 points in a comfortable success.

And Mallinder said: “You don’t play in the Premiership for 10 years, make so many appearances, score so many points if you’re not a good player, and Stephen certainly is.

“He showed the value of experience in that position and some of his kicking was outstanding against Sale.”