The big interview: Tom Vickers talks to Saints and England star Alex Mitchell

The big matches and the big moments just keep coming for Alex Mitchell.
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And there is no doubt that the experiences he enjoyed at the Rugby World Cup have stood the talented scrum-half in good stead.

Mitchell missed out on the initial England cut for the tournament in France, but an injury to Leicester Tigers No.9 Jack van Poortvliet opened a door that many felt should have already been walked through by the Saints star.

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He not only made his way into the squad but proceeded to start for Steve Borthwick's side, becoming first choice as the Red Rose made it all the way to the semi-finals where they were agonisingly beaten by eventual champions South Africa.

Alex Mitchell marked his Saints return with a try last Sunday (picture: Ketan Shah)Alex Mitchell marked his Saints return with a try last Sunday (picture: Ketan Shah)
Alex Mitchell marked his Saints return with a try last Sunday (picture: Ketan Shah)

Mitchell was given a week off following the conclusion of his international commitments but returned to Saints action last Sunday, taking on the team who had started the weekend top of the Gallagher Premiership standings.

And it was to be a happy homecoming for Mitchell as he produced a huge performance, which was capped with a typically electric try in a hugely impressive 34-19 Saints success.

Now the 26-year-old is setting his sights on an even bigger occasion as he and his club-mates prepare to head to Mattioli Woods Welford Road to face local rivals Leicester Tigers on Saturday.

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And Mitchell can do so safe in the knowledge that he is now a better, more well-rounded player than the one who departed for France a few months ago.

"It's good to play in different teams with different players because you get different perspectives," he said.

"Also, playing in different systems you realise what different strategies break teams down and what actually works for a team.

"It was a great experience for me to get those different voices, different coaches and it's always good to help you improve so I guess I did some back a better player.

"The whole experience of the World Cup was really fun.

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"Obviously coming in late was different but it was really enjoyable to meet up with the squad again.

"The whole experience was amazing, especially being involved this time and the different places we went to: Le Touquet, Nice, Marseille to Paris - it was fantastic.

"Being involved in those games in those stadiums was amazing, so for me the whole thing was brilliant and it was just a shame we didn't actually get the job done."

You might think Mitchell would have found the whirlwind of going from not selected to starter tough, but he actually found it beneficial.

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He explained: "Sometimes I think it's actually better because you've not got the whole build-up, you're straight into the mixer and you've got to be switched on straight away.

"There wasn't much time to linger about because you're playing games.

"Sometimes you have to change your mindset from coming from Saints to England and it's something to get used to but getting chucked straight in can be the best thing for you."

From free-flowing Saints to methodical England, Mitchell made the transition look easy.

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"It was fine," he said. "From the outside, it seems very different but the basic core principles are very similar.

"Obviously sometimes Saints like to play a bit more so sometimes it's a little dial that you need to change towards a kicking game and playing in the right areas with England.

"It's something to get used to and the coaches are fantastic in terms of really helping you and appreciating that when you're on the pitch.

"I thought it was good."

As it turns out, Saints are not as gung-ho as they once were.

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They have been working hard to develop an all-court style that gives them more than just razor-sharp attacking to fall back on.

"With us, we know how good we are in attack and there's always things to work on, but if we get the balance of our game really right with our kicking game and our running game and playing in the right areas, we're going to be really difficult to play against," Mitchell said.

"We can kick and play in the right areas or we can run the ball and score out wide so if we get the balance right, we can be very dangerous.

"Hopefully we can put in some more performances like the one on Sunday."

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That performance in the win against Exeter was easily Saints' most complete of the season so far.

But things will go up another notch on Saturday against a Tigers team full of Mitchell's England team-mates.

"I obviously know the England boys really well - they're really good guys and they're really good players," Mitchell said.

"You've got to appreciate that and obviously training with them in the past two months, there's a few things I know they're strong at so I can try to look after them in that sense.

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"I'm really excited to play against them, you want to play against the England players so I'm really looking forward to it."

So will the fact Mitchell knows so many of the Tigers players help to take a little bit of the emotion out of the afternoon?

"You obviously appreciate that but when it's time to play and it's business, you kind of switch on and you're not that good mates anymore, especially when it's derby week," he said.

"I'll obviously speak to them before the game but when the whistle blows, we'll be fully into it."

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Mitchell has been at Saints long enough to sample several derby days.

And he said: "I love them.

"They're the biggest game for us in the year apart from the play-offs and it's the first game you look at when the fixtures come out.

"I'm massively excited and whether it's here or at Welford Road, normally it's close to a sell-out and the atmosphere through the week and in the game is massive so I'm really looking forward to it."

Mitchell has found it easy to return to life at Saints, who he kept a close eye on while he was away.

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"Coming back in, I thought I'd have to learn all the moves again but I've been here for a fair few years now so it comes back pretty quickly," he said.

"Everyone helps you, the players and the coaches, so it's not been too tough.

"There are obviously a few things you need to get used to but as soon as you do a few training sessions you're pretty much back to normal. It's been fine.

"I spoke to a lot of the lads while I was away, I FaceTimed the boys and when we were free and not playing or training, I'd watch the games.

"I watched most of the matches and we had a tricky start but we've managed to turn that around and hopefully we can keep the momentum going."