Mallinder confident that Saints’ young guns will fire

EXCITING PROSPECT - Ethan Waller
EXCITING PROSPECT - Ethan Waller
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Scribbled on the whiteboard in Saints boss Jim Mallinder’s Franklin’s Gardens office were a list of names.

He pointed to them with glee during an interview with this publication ahead of the start of the new season.

Those names were of players in the Saints academy. Players who it was hoped would make the step up this season.

And, on Saturday, a clutch of them will get a chance to do just that as the experiments begin in the much-maligned LV= Cup.

Players such as centre Tom Stephenson and prop Ethan Waller, both of whom have recently signed their first professional contracts at the club, are likely to get a chance to show what they’re made of against English champions Harlequins.

And when asked whether he is more excited about the young talent he has at his disposal than at any other time during his five-year tenure, Mallinder emphatically replied: “I am.

“The reason being, we’ve got more quality players coming through.

“You look back at the squad three, four years ago and potentially Paul Diggin came from this area, but he didn’t really come through the academy.

“Courtney Lawes is probably the only player who had come through the academy but what we’ve got now is a number of young players who have been involved in the system.

“At 14 and 16 they’re getting really good strength and conditioning work now.

“And we’re seeing at 18, 19 these players are coming in much better prepared to play top-class rugby.”

With five players in the England Under-20 squad and a further two in the Under-18s, there is obvious potential in the Franklin’s Gardens ranks.

And it seems the men currently in charge of Northampton are aiming to build a dynasty that will ensure the club remains among the pantheon of the English game for years to come.

“It’s fantastic to see a good number of players in the England Under 18s and Under 20s and it’s important we continue that,” said Mallinder.

“If you look at the top clubs in the country that’s what they’re doing really well.

“That’s something we want to do and we want to give them a chance in the first team.”

This weekend’s opposition Quins have set the benchmark for developing players who can catapult the first team to major honours.

The Twickenham-based side clinched league glory last season and Mallinder, who saw his men lose at The Stoop in the Premiership play-off semi-final, knows they are setting a standard to which others aspire.

“Harlequins did really well to win the Premiership last season,” he said.

“They’ve got an excellent mix of quality non-English players combined with a lot of good English players, the majority of whom they’ve brought through their own academy system.

“They’re good role models.”