Mallinder wants Saints to provide more magical European memories

Jim Mallinder (picture: Sharon Lucey)
Jim Mallinder (picture: Sharon Lucey)
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Jim Mallinder has challenged Saints to create some more magical European Cup memories at Franklin’s Gardens on Saturday evening.

Malliinder’s men welcome Montpellier to Northampton knowing that a win is essential in the bid to progress from Pool 4 of this season’s Champions Cup.

Saints got past the group stages last season after going through unbeaten at home.

And they have enjoyed some big European wins under Mallinder, including a victory against Munster in 2009 and during the run to the Heineken Cup final in 2011.

And when asked to reflect on recent European games at the Gardens, Mallinder said: “We’ve had some good ones and bad ones.

“We got through to the European final in Cardiff (in 2011) and that was a real highlight, especially when you look back to the quarter-final and semi-final at Milton Keynes.

“That’s vivid in most of our memories and we’d love a repeat of that.

“We’ve had some fantastic nights here at Franklin’s Gardens but we’ve also had some disappointments as well.

“We’ve got to respect the competition, we’ve got to be aware of the change in the competition.

“It is different, it’s not an English referee, it’s Nigel Owens, who referees slightly differently and so we can’t be caught out by not expecting that.

“But we’ve got a good, experienced squad.

“If you look at our players, we’ve got a good team and it’s just a question of gelling on the night and playing for that full 80 minutes.”

Saints go into Saturday’s game on the back of four defeats from six Aviva Premiership matches at the start of this season.

And Mallinder said: “After a bit of a hesitant start to the Premiership campaign it’s good to refocus on a different competition.

“It’s exciting and it’s two good teams with us taking on Montpellier at home and that’s going to be a massive challenge.

“I don’t think I needed to give them (the Saints players) a rocket. It was one that they knew, straight after the game (at Harlequins), that it wasn’t acceptable.

“We’re a better team than we showed last weekend and I know Harlequins had a lot on it as well, but we didn’t do things we spoke about.

“We’ve discussed it, we’ve practiced it and we need to be a lot better.

“Montpellier are a quality side and we’ve watched a lot of their recent games.

“They’ve got South Africans, Georgians and they play a certain style, but it’s effective and it’s winning.

“They had success in Europe last year (Montpellier won the Challenge Cup) and they’re doing well this year.”

So what exactly can Saints expect from Montpellier team who are currently sitting second in the Top 14 after five wins from eight matches?

“It’s going to be very physical,” Mallinder said.

“They don’t overcomplicate their game, they are very simple but you know they’re coming and you’ve got to stop them.

“They’ve got some big, strong forwards.

“They’ve got (François) Steyn at 12 in the backs, some massive wingers and it’s going to be a formidable challenge.

“I don’t think you’d want to get in an arm wrestle against a team like Montpellier - you’ve got to play rugby against them.

“We’ve shown we can do that this season. We did it against Wasps and Exeter. We’ll have to play well for 80 minutes on Saturday.

“If you’re at home, you certainly want to start with a win because if you don’t get that win, you’re up against it for the rest of the campaign.”

The Champions Cup is certainly a cut-throat competition, with one or two defeats often proving damaging to a team’s chances of emerging from the pool stages.

But Mallinder has shrugged off the pressure, saying: “Everybody just loves the challenge of professional rugby.

“It doesn’t go for a couple of weeks then you have a month off - you play week in, week out.

“If you play in the Premiership, that’s what you expect.

“It’s six games, full on, then into Europe and some players then go away for internationals.

“It’s what we love, it’s what we do and it is a massive challenge.

“There’s the highs and lows, the winning and the losing, but the reaction has been fantastic and they seem really up for it.”