Mallinder pleased by Saints Heineken Cup draw

Northampton Saints director of rugby Jim Mallinder says that he is pleased with the draw that his Saints team were given in the Heineken Cup.

The Saints have been pooled with Cardiff Blues, Edinburgh and Castres Olympique for the 2010/11 tournament.

The draw means a return to the Cardiff City Stadium, where the Saints played a pre-season friendly in 2009, and Murrayfield, which hosted the 2007 Heineken Cup tie between the Saints and Border Reivers.

But there will be a new venue to add to the tally of stadiums played in by the Saints in the form of the Stade Pierre Antoine, home of Castres Olympique.

The French outfit were not in the 2009/10 Heineken Cup, but they finished fifth in the Top 14 and included the likes of Toulouse and Biarritz among the scalps claimed on home turf.

With all four clubs boasting proud home records – both Cardiff and Edinburgh were unbeaten at home in Europe last season – and with the Blues going into next year’s Heineken Cup on the back of Amlin Challenge Cup success last term, Mallinder says that the Saints can be ambitious about reaching the knockout stages but need to be realistic about the challenges that lie ahead.

“The Heineken Cup is the best club competition in world rugby and there are never any easy games,” he said. “Cardiff showed how far they have come by winning the Challenge Cup in a hostile atmosphere against Toulon and Edinburgh have improved a great deal over the last few years.

“And any trip to France is tough, especially to a place like Castres, who don’t lose very often at home. This season they beat both Toulouse and Biarritz, who reached this year’s Heineken Cup final, which shows that they have to be taken seriously too.

“Having said that, it is a promising draw for us. We have ambitions of becoming one of Europe’s top teams that reaches the knockout stages of the Heineken Cup on a regular basis and this group is wide open. Every team will be able to beat every other team and if we work hard and get a bit of luck we could find ourselves in the quarter finals.

“We learned a great deal from our trips in Europe this season, especially the games at Thomond Park, and are eager to put these lessons into practice next season.”

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