Familiar foes await as Saints seek semi-final spot

In last season's Champions Cup quarter-final Saints were thrust into the unknown.

Alex Waller is hoping Saints can make amends for last season's Champions Cup quarter-final heartache (picture: Sharon Lucey)
Alex Waller is hoping Saints can make amends for last season's Champions Cup quarter-final heartache (picture: Sharon Lucey)

They were forced to travel to France to face one of the most ferocious sides in Europe.

Clermont Auvergne boasted a formidable home record and a side saturated with emotion, which is created by their fervent fans.

Ear-splitting noise accompanied a performance from the home side that was from a different planet to the one Saints had previously inhabited.

And Jim Mallinder’s men were eventually on the end of a 37-5 evisceration.

Fast forward a year and Saints are faced with another of Europe’s best at the same stage.

And again they must travel to take on that team.

But in Saracens, Saints know what they are up against.

The sides have met with alarming regularity in recent years, contesting Aviva Premiership play-offs semi-finals and the final, in 2014, when Saints won the title.

They have faced each other in an LV= Cup final-four encounter, which Saracens won, and now they go toe-to-toe in European rugby’s premier competition.

So rather than scrapping with an unfamiliar foe like Clermont, Saints are clashing with a common enemy.

And they have positive history to draw on as they boast a good record at Allianz Park, where they won in the league just last month.

“It’s always a tough game and each match is one in its own right so we can’t look too much at the history,” said prop Alex Waller.

“We enjoy playing down there, it’s a good place to play, a nice pitch, so we’re looking forward to it.

“People do mention about the surface a lot, but personally it doesn’t bother me too much - it’s just the same as a hard pitch.

“Now the pitches are firming up, it’s not too much different.

“I look forward to playing down there because you want to test yourself against the best team in the Premiership and one of the best in Europe.”

Reflecting on last month’s 20-15 success at Saracens, which was earned by Stephen Myler and Lee Dickson tries, Waller said: “We did have to battle for it and it was an enjoyable victory, but they’re going to be even better now.

“They’ve got their internationals back so they will be a different side, but we’re looking forward to the challenge.”

Saints can set up a Madejski Stadium semi-final against either Wasps or Exeter Chiefs, who face each other earlier in the day, on April 23 should they win at Saracens on Saturday evening.

And there is no getting away from what it would mean to Waller and Co to grace the final four of this competition.

“It would be massive for the club, massive for the town and massive for us as players,” Waller said.

“We fell short last year against Clermont and we’re looking forward to trying to correct that a little bit this year.

“It’s been five or six years since we had that great season (2010/11) and reached the final so it would be a massive achievement for everyone who has worked so hard.

“Hopefully we can win and then carry that into the Premiership.”