Saints centre Harry can't wait for huge Tigers clash
Harry Mallinder would never take the credit, but there is no doubt that Saints' upturn in fortunes coincided with the young back's return to action.
After a difficult December, Mallinder’s comeback provided a welcome new year boost.
He had suffered an ankle injury in the Aviva Premiership win against Gloucester in October and required surgery to stabilise the joint.
But after more than two months on the sidelines, Mallinder was back in action in the new year’s day game, which, aptly, came against the Cherry and Whites at Kingsholm.
His second-half cameo - he was a half-time replacement for Ken Pisi, who had a tough afternoon - provided the spark Saints needed as they recovered from a 9-0 half-time deficit to win 13-12.
And Mallinder was at it again from the bench on the following weekend, landing a crucial late drop goal in a battling win against Bristol at Franklin’s Gardens.
He then started in the victory against Castres before playing a part in a pride-producing performance at Montpellier last Friday.
“I’m really enjoying it - it’s nice to be back out on the field,” Mallinder said.
“It wasn’t the longest spell I’ve had out but it wasn’t ideal picking up that injury against Gloucester and it was nice to be back out there in the return fixture and contributing to the team.
“You never really know with injuries how bad it will be and thankfully it wasn’t too serious.
“My rehab process was a smooth one and that was thanks to the guys in the physio and strength and conditioning department.
“It was difficult while I was out because when you’re watching your team put in such hard work during the week and not seeing the fruition of it at the weekend, is frustrating.
“I did my best as much as I could in terms of meetings and analysis and thankfully we’re starting to turn the corner now.”
And Mallinder is now setting his sights on the old enemy, with an Anglo-Welsh Cup trip to Leicester Tigers on the agenda this Saturday.
“I can’t wait for it - I’m really excited,” said Mallinder, who is now starting to lose the black eyes that came as a result of sustaining a broken nose in the game against Bristol.
“I was in the squad for a Premiership game at Welford Road last year but didn’t manage to get on the field.
“It’s obviously a huge game with it being a local derby and with it being an Anglo-Welsh game, it doesn’t take anything from that.
“We’ve grown up with derbies and we know how much of a challenge it is.
“Like any team, they are very proud of their home performances especially and they will come out firing this week.”
With JJ Hanrahan set for a spell out with a hand injury, Mallinder looks likely to make the No.12 shirt his own over the weeks to come.
And the 20-year-old said: “I’m very comfortable playing at 12 and I’m learning week in, week out.
“I’m just enjoying playing, enjoying being put in difficult situations against the best players and hopefully I’ll get better.”
Mallinder’s drop goal against Bristol earlier this month was timely, as he stretched the lead from three points to six late on.
And he said: “Scoreboard pressure is something we talk about and in that situation, we took it from a one-score game.
“We had the penalty advantage and the drop goal was pretty ugly but effective so I’m pleased with that.”
And Saints, who have not won at Welford Road in any competition since 2007, would certainly settle for an ugly but effective victory this weekend.