Saints boss Mallinder: Season’s best needed to beat Saracens

BE CONFIDENT - Jim Mallinder has urged his Saints players to believe they can beat Saracens (picture by Linda Dawson)
BE CONFIDENT - Jim Mallinder has urged his Saints players to believe they can beat Saracens (picture by Linda Dawson)

Jim Mallinder says Saints should be proud of reaching the Premiership play-off semi-finals.

And he feels they can now go all the way and claim the title, as long as they believe in themselves.

Sunday’s trip to Saracens will be Saints’ fourth successive Premiership play-off semi-final, though they are yet to win one.

Mallinder’s men will be underdogs for this weekend’s clash, having finished three places and 12 points behind table-toppers Sarries in the regular-season standings.

But the director of rugby has urged his players to be confident and keep calm as they look to book a place in the May 25 Twickenham grand final.

“Reaching the semi-finals is certainly an achievement that we are proud of,” said Mallinder.

“The Premiership has been more competitive than ever this season, and below us in the table are teams 
who spend as much money on their squad, if not more, and have more players in their squad.

“Before the season, several commentators were saying that Saints would be the ones to drop out of the top four at the end of the campaign, 
but here we are, in the top four, and with a team that we believe can compete with any of the other sides in the play-offs.

“If the last few years has taught us anything it is that it will be a small margin between ourselves and Saracens.

“Our last three semi-finals have all been decided by less than one score, and it could easily be the same this Sunday.

“The important thing is that we maintain our composure and believe in ourselves and our ability to play.”

But while Mallinder is full of belief, he recognises the challenge that lies in wait for his players this weekend.

Champions two years ago, Saracens are now a formidable force, in England and Europe, possessing a team packed full of international stars, including former Saints winger, Chris Ashton.

And Mallinder is well aware that his side, who have claimed fine wins at fortresses such as Ulster and Gloucester during this campaign, will have to produce a season’s best to win at Copthall.

“We have earned ourselves some memorable wins this season, not least the games at Ulster, Gloucester, Bath and London Wasps,” he said. “But we know that a lot of people see us as underdogs.”

“Saracens have been playing well at home and deservedly finished top of the table, winning more games than anyone else.

“They’ve got three British Lions in their squad and plenty more internationals – all of which gives them plenty of strength in depth – and we will need our best performance of the season if we are to win at Allianz Park.”

As a club, Saints have already celebrated two successes at Allianz Park this season, with the Wanderers and academy side seeing off Saracens on their own patch.

Those Northampton teams have fed back to Mallinder and his first-team squad on how the artificial pitch plays.

And the boss has subsequently ensured his players have trained on a 3G pitch at Tresham College this week in preparation for the play-off showdown.

“It is a venue which will be new to many of the players, although I’m sure that many of them will have been talking to the Wanderers squad who played at Allianz Park a few weeks ago,” he said.

“It is a fast surface, but over the last few weeks every surface has been fast.

“It has meant a slight change to our training schedule as we have been using one of the best artificial surfaces in the county. But at the end of the day it is still about two teams, and whoever plays the better on the day will win the game.”