Jim Mallinder accepts Northampton Saints have a tough test in their group for next season’s Heineken Cup.
The Saints were drawn with Ulster, Glasgow Warriors and Castres in Pool Four.
The draw means that the last two Heineken Cup losing finalists will be going head-to-head for the first time since the 2011 quarter final, not to mention an early return to Franklin’s Gardens for number eight Roger Wilson, who re-joins Ulster this summer.
And with Glasgow and Castres both reaching their respective league play-offs Mallinder says that Saints will have to be at their best in every pool match if they are to reach the quarter finals for a third time in four years.
“It is a challenging pool for us and we will have to play well to progress to the knockout stages,” he commented after the pool draw was completed. “Ulster showed on several occasions last season that they have really matured as a team, especially in their quarter final win away at Munster and in their home pool matches against Leicester and Clermont Auvergne. We also have fresh memories of playing them in the 2011 quarter final when they pushed us all the way in a competitive match.
“Glasgow is another team which is improving year after year. They came fourth in the Pro 12 table and finished second in a Heineken Cup pool which included Leinster and Montpellier, and with a number of international players in their squad they will be hard to beat, especially at Firhill.
“Of course we know plenty about Castres, having played them in the past two Heineken Cups. Down in France they are a very tough proposition. They had an excellent home record once again and reached the Top 14 play-offs for yet another season, and with the quality of squad they have they will pose us plenty of challenges at Franklin’s Gardens as well.
“However we know we have a squad which can compete in this pool. Our core group of players has been together for a number of years now and is determined to improve and achieve better things in 2012/13. We have added more international experience and the end of the last campaign showed that our youngsters can step up to the mark, too.
“So while it is a challenging European draw for us we will be feeling positive going into next season’s Heineken Cup.”