Mallinder facing selection dilemma ahead of Saracens showdown

Mike Haywood has been superb in recent weeks, stepping up in the absence of club captain Dylan Hartley (pictures: Linda Dawson)

Mike Haywood has been superb in recent weeks, stepping up in the absence of club captain Dylan Hartley (pictures: Linda Dawson)

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Jim Mallinder has admitted he faces a positive selection headache ahead of Saturday’s Aviva Premiership final.

The Saints director claims he could have a fully-fit squad for Saturday’s showdown with Saracens at Twickenham.

And that means there is plenty of thinking to be done as Mallinder bids to conjure up a winning formula on the biggest stage.

Here, we take a look at five key calls he will have to make ahead of the team announcement at noon on Friday.

Alex Corbisiero or Alex Waller?

British & Irish Lions prop Corbisiero has roared back to fitness after spending more than six months on the sidelines with a knee injury. He started last Friday’s Amlin Challenge Cup triumph against Bath, with Waller emerging from the bench during the second half. Waller has been the most impressive of deputies for Corbisiero, making the No.1 shirt his own. And whoever gets the nod, Saints will have a wealth of talent on the loosehead side.

Dylan Hartley or Mike Haywood?

Hartley has been missing since the end of March after sustaining a fractured shoulder blade against Leicester, but Mallinder has revealed the hooker was back in full training last week. This provides a real dilemma as Haywood has been superb in recent weeks, stepping up in the absence of the club captain, with Ross McMillan also impressing at hooker. Hartley’s experience could be key in the final, but he may be utilised from the bench, having not played for several weeks. Haywood has more than earned his chance.

Christian Day or Sam Dickinson?

This would not be a like-for-like swap, but Mallinder may decide to switch Samu Manoa to No.8 and bring the experienced Day into the second row. It appears unlikely, as Dickinson has been in brilliant form in recent weeks, but Manoa destroyed Saracens from No.8 back in October and that could come into consideration. Day recently won Saints’ players’ player of the season prize and will be a real asset, from the start or from the bench.

Kahn Fotuali’i or Lee Dickson?

Dickson was the man in the nine shirt last Friday, starting in the Amlin Challenge Cup triumph against Bath. But Fotuali’i came off the bench to add plenty of class to proceedings and steer his side to victory. This is a great dilemma for Mallinder to have as he possesses two top class scrum-halves. Fotuali’i could just get the nod from the off on this occasion due to his physical nature and the rich vein of form he has been in during the second half of the campaign.

Jamie Elliott or Ken Pisi?

Elliott has not played since scoring at Bath on May 2, but Mallinder is hopeful of having the wing back from injury this weekend. That would catapult him into a fight for the No.14 shirt with Pisi, who has shown plenty of spark in recent weeks. The Samoan put in an impressive second-half performance last week, but Elliott will be fresh and his defensive qualities could see him earn the starting spot, with the slippery David Strettle set to provide the opposition on Saturday.