Saints v Blues ‘will be a cracker’ : Mallinder

Jim Mallinder predicts that Northampton Saints’ Heineken Cup Round 3 contest with Cardiff Blues at Franklin’s Gardens on Saturday “will be a cracker” – the Saints top of Pool 1 and intent on marching triumphantly on ahead of the reverse fixture at the Cardiff City Stadium eight days later.


The Saints have won three of the four previous tournament meetings with the Blues and the 2000 Heineken Cup champions are aware they must make the most of home advantage on Saturday after opening with wins over Castres Olympique and Edinburgh.


The Blues are three points adrift after beating Edinburgh at home but going down on the road at Castres Olympique and are well aware another reverse will leave the Saints well and truly in the group driving seat.


“The back-to-back games are always very important,” said Northampton’s Director of Rugby.


“Cardiff Blues are a good team and as we played them recently in the Anglo-Welsh tournament – and narrowly lost – we know a fair bit about them. “They won the Amlin Challenge Cup last season by beating Toulon in Marseille so we know how good they are and I think the match will be a cracker.”


Northampton were left kicking their heels when the Premiership leaders’ match at Leeds Carnegie was one of the weekend’s big freeze casualties while the Blues went down 16-9 against Munster in Ireland.


Meanwhile the Saints lost 33-19 against Munster at Thomond Park in last season’s quarter-finals and Mallinder is initially setting his sights on earning a place in the last eight yet again.


“Naturally we are all hopeful of progressing from last year but we accept that it is going to be an extremely tough game at Cardiff Blues in Round 4 as they have a good home record,” said Mallinder.


“The key to going further is to keep progressing and as we do not have a massive squad perhaps we may need a bit of luck.


“Just look at the French sides like Clermont and Toulon – they have absolutely fantastic squads.


“And then there are the Irish teams. They prioritise the Heineken Cup and put all their resources into the competition.


“However, we will still go into the games with good heart.”


Flanker Tom Wood, who played against both Castres Olympique and Edinburgh in the earlier rounds after joining Northampton from Worcester Warriors in the summer, believes the Cardiff Blues back row will pose the biggest threat to the Premiership pacesetters.


“They are particularly strong in the back row with the likes of Martyn Williams and Xavier Rush and, if selected, I will have to make sure I am on the top of my game,” said the player who played for the Saxons in the 2010 Churchill Cup.


“We are all really looking forward to the matches with the Blues – they are such huge games – and by the time Rounds 3 and 4 are over it should be pretty obvious as to what will be going on in the group with just two more rounds to go after that.


“I had only played in the Amlin Challenge Cup before, although Worcester did really well in my first season with them when they reached the final, so I am thoroughly enjoying every moment I have in the Heineken Cup.


“We struggled against Castres but still got a win in a very hard fought encounter while it was always going to be tough at Edinburgh. They are a good side and they played extremely well with their off-loading and wide game.”

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