Mallinder: Saints set to relish big Champions Cup challenges

Jim Mallinder (picture: Sharon Lucey)

Jim Mallinder (picture: Sharon Lucey)

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Jim Mallinder says Saints can’t wait to get stuck into Champions Cup action after they were handed a difficult draw in the European competition.

Mallinder’s men will face familiar foes Leinster and Castres in Pool 4, with Challenge Cuo champions Montpellier completing the line-up.

Saints know all about Castres as this will be the fifth season in seven that they have squared up to the French side.

There is also plenty of history with Leinster, with Northampton having lost to the Irish giants in the 2011 Heineken Cup final.

The clubs faced each other in the pool stages of the 2012/13 Heineken Cup, with Leinster earning a crushing win at Franklin’s Gardens before Saints secured a stunning success in Dublin a week later.

Saints’ most recent meeting with Montpellier came in January 2009, when Sean Lamont, Chris Mayor and Stephen Myler scored in a 28-24 Challenge Cup success. Louis Picamoles, who has joined Northampton from Toulouse this summer, was on the scoresheet for Montpellier on that occasion.

“It is a tough draw for us, but every group is tough in the Champions Cup,” said Mallinder, who steered Saints to the quarter-finals last time round.

“We’ve come up against Leinster and Castres regularly in the past few years and had some memorable games against both clubs.

“I don’t think anyone has forgotten any of the matches against Leinster, which of course include the final in 2011 and our win in the Aviva Stadium in 2013. They have a lot of top players in their squad and reached the semi-finals of the Pro 12 this year.

“We know what to expect from Castres as well. Like every French club they will be big and physical and the Stade Pierre Antoine is a hostile environment.

“It’s been a long time since we’ve played Montpellier, a club that has come a long way since we played them in the Challenge Cup in 2008/09. Jake White is an experienced international coach who has given Montpellier a winning culture that we all saw recently when they beat Harlequins to win the Challenge Cup a few weeks ago.

“Now that the draw has been made we can start to plan for the new season and it gives us all something to look forward to.”