Mallinder reflects on a tough season for Saints
Jim Mallinder's smile hid his true feelings as he addressed the assembled media after last Saturday's game against Harlequins.
Because although his face didn’t show it, the Saints director of rugby has had a really tough time this season.
On numerous occasions he has seen his side edge towards the line before victory has been snatched from their grasp.
In big league games, late anguish has been a constant.
And last weekend was no different as Saints failed to score the fourth try they needed to pick up a bonus point that would have secured a top-six finish.
Now, if Gloucester win the Challenge Cup tonight, Mallinder’s men will face the prospect of taking part in that competition next season.
Saints could still get a reprieve via the Champions Cup play-offs later this month, if Gloucester lose.
But Mallinder knows that even victory in those two matches, which would be played at Franklin’s Gardens, would not paper over the cracks of this campaign.
“We’ll reflect anyway that it has been a disappointing season,” the Saints boss said. “I don’t think you can describe it any other way.
“We set our standards high at the club. We want to be finishing in the top four in the Premiership and fighting for play-off places. This year, it’s not happened.
“We are against competitive sides, it isn’t easy, but I do think we’ve got a side and a squad who can do that.
“I’m optimistic about next season. I think we’ve got some really good players joining us at nine, 10, 13, prop and back row who will add to the squad.
“Next year, we can get better.”
Mallinder took over at Saints in 2007 and enjoyed constant progression up to 2015.
He masterminded an unbeaten season in National League One and then helped Saints to consolidate in England’s top flight.
Success in the Challenge Cup and Anglo-Welsh Cup also came, along with a superb run to the Heineken Cup final in 2011, when Saints led 22-6 at half-time against Leinster, who recovered to win 33-22.
But Saints had their glory in 2014, claiming an Aviva Premiership and Challenge Cup double.
And Mallinder saw his team finish top of the Premiership table for the first time in the club’s history a year later.
But since then, Saints have finished fifth and seventh, failing to pick up any silverware along the way.
And when asked whether now is the time to totally overhaul how he and the Saints coaches do things, Mallinder said: “I don’t think you ever need to rip things up. What you need to do is improve and what we will do is reflect on our season.
“If you look at the first half of the season, our attacking game wasn’t functioning, we weren’t scoring tries, but we were defending very well. Since Christmas, we’ve gone the other way, scoring lots of tries, but defensively we’ve been conceding quite a lot of points.
“We need to do what every other team is doing, which is to improve our attack, improve our defence, score more tries and concede less.”
Calls for Mallinder, who signed a new five-year contract in 2014, to be removed from his role have grown louder in recent weeks and months.
But he will not be going anywhere, with Saints’ coaching structure set in stone for the next campaign.
“This has been a really tough season,” Mallinder said. “When you’re winning, things are a lot easier. Even if that’s by one point or two points.
“If you look at our results, particularly fairly recently, we’ve lost a lot of games, just, and that makes it awkward.
“Your weeks are difficult, you do end up scratching your head and thinking ‘how can we improve?’. But that’s what we’ve got to do.
“We’ve got to reflect and we’ve got to move on.”