Coach Mallinder issues play-off warning to Saints players

WORK TO BE DONE - Jim Mallinder says a top two finish for Saints in the Aviva Premiership is not guaranteed
WORK TO BE DONE - Jim Mallinder says a top two finish for Saints in the Aviva Premiership is not guaranteed
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Jim Mallinder has warned Saints that their lead at the top of the Aviva Premiership table is not untouchable.

And the director of rugby wants his men to make sure they stretch the current nine-point gap to second-placed Bath by beating Wasps at Franklin’s Gardens on Friday night.

Dai Young’s done a terrific job, we know the side Wasps have got - some very exciting backs - and they’ve got more grunt in the forwards now

Saints director of rugby Jim Mallinder

With just five games of the regular season remaining, Saints are in pole position for a home play-off semi-final.

But with top-four contenders Wasps and Exeter providing the opposition in the next two league games, Mallinder is wary of his side’s breathing space being taken away.

“We’ve got to stretch our lead, hold onto it and get a home semi-final - that’s what we’re after,” said the Saints boss.

“Everyone’s after those top four places and in an ideal world you take a top two place playing at home.

“We’re are a few points clear but that could easily go in two weeks.

“Home games are important and this is one of them for us.

“We’re playing against a team who are playing well and they’re still pushing to get into the top four.

“It’s going to be difficult and we need to take one game at a time, not worry about the other four and try to get a win in this game.”

Wasps are one of only three teams to beat Saints in the Premiership this season, having earned a 20-16 win at Adams Park back in September.

And Mallinder is full of admiration for the work his counterpart, Dai Young, has done at the club, who are now based at the Ricoh Arena in Coventry.

“They’ve been on a continual improvement over the past few years,” he said.

“Dai Young’s done a terrific job, we know the side they’ve got - some very exciting backs - and they’ve got more grunt in the forwards now.

“The front five play well, scrummage well, they’ve got a good lineout, the back three in the scrum are very, very strong.

“They’ve got a couple of key half-backs making good decisions for them.

“As a team they have improved and they’re reaping some of the benefits now at the Ricoh.”

With a Champions Cup quarter-final at Clermont Auvergne lying in wait on April 4, Saints, who have their Six Nations stars back, will be aiming to gel as quickly as possible this Friday.

And though Mallinder admits it is good that his men won’t be going to France cold, he knows league matters must be treated with equal importance.

“It probably is (good to have a league game before Clermont), but it’s a game we’ve got to win,” he said.

“It’s a home game, Wasps have been going well, they’ve got some quality players, we know all about their strengths and they’re improving as a team without a doubt.

“We’ve got to be at our very best right from the first whistle.

“We’ve got to make sure we stick to our game plan.”