Mallinder knows Quins clash will be so crucial for Saints
Whatever way you look at it, Saints' final-day fixture against Harlequins at Franklin's Gardens looks set to decide the destination of the last guaranteed Champions Cup slot.
Jim Mallinder’s men were so close to putting some much-needed breathing space between themselves and Quins last weekend.
But after seeing their rivals from The Stoop lose at home to Exeter two days earlier, Saints couldn’t get over the line against Saracens.
While they were pushing for the bonus-point try at 25-12 up, they took their eye off the ball, conceding two tries in the final 11 minutes to suffer an agonising 27-25 defeat.
It was the third time in as many matches that Saints had lost a lead at the death, and they are now still embroiled in the battle just to make it in Europe’s top-flight tournament.
The losing bonus point they garnered at Stadium MK was enough to put Saints above Quins into sixth.
But with Mallinder’s men travelling to Exeter Chiefs next Saturday and Quins hosting Wasps on the same weekend, it could very much be a case of as you were when the two teams clash on the last day of the season, May 6.
Gloucester could also come into the equation, as they are just two points behind Saints in the standings.
But the notoriously unpredictable Cherry and Whites, who face a Challenge Cup semi-final at La Rochelle this weekend, go to Bath next time out in the league and then host Exeter on the final day.
So it looks set to come down to a straight fight between Saints and Quins.
And that is just how Jim Mallinder would like it, if his men can’t get it sewn up at Sandy Park next Saturday.
“In terms of last Sunday’s result, I don’t know how much has changed for us,” Mallinder said.
“We’ve got Quins on the final day and we’re going to try to go down to Exeter and win, which will be a very difficult task.
“We got a point last Sunday and that nudged us up to sixth.
“The Quins game will be massive and hopefully it will be between us and them in a winner-takes-all game.”
Given the nerves and lack of composure that have blighted Saints in recent weeks, that promises to be a hugely tense affair at the Gardens.
And Mallinder knows his side will have to be much smarter in their next two encounters if they are to achieve their aims.
“There is a pattern in that we’ve played well and then lost it in the last few minutes,” the Saints boss said.
“They’ve all been different games so there are different reasons for that.
“We will and need to keep looking at ourselves in terms of our game management, which clearly wasn’t helped when Louis Picamoles and Stephen Myler aren’t on the field (both were forced off injured).
“They are two of our key decision makers, but we’ve got some good players there and we probably could have been a little bit smarter at times.”