Munster will be acid test for Northampton Saints

Former Heineken Cup champions Munster and Northampton Saints are on course for another mighty showdown when the Saints travel to Thomond Park on Friday for the Pool 1 decider.

Munster are two points clear at the top and Saints accept that only a win will be good enough for them to earn automatic quarter-final qualification.

But Jim Mallinder, the Saints Director of Rugby, insists the build-up to the big match will be more about excitement and anticipation than producing sleepless nights and, despite the rapid turnaround, they will be prepared for the massive challenge.

Northampton won European club rugby’s most coveted prize in 2000 – beating Munster 9-8 in the Twickenham final – but Munster have since gone on to become Heineken Cup final winners in 2006 and 2008 and are aiming for the triple to continue the sequence in another even year.

“I think this match is everything you want,” said Mallinder.

“When we saw the draw we knew it would be difficult, but what we did want to do was play ourselves into a position where come Round 6 we had something to play for – and we have managed to do that so that is satisfying.”

The winner-takes-all match was set up with maximum five point wins for both teams in Round 5, Munster winning 44-7 at Benetton Treviso and Northampton beating reigning French champions Perpignan 34-0 at Franklin’s Gardens.

“We are going on the back of a good run – I think we are unbeaten in nine or 10 games – and that is very encouraging,” said Mallinder.

“But we also know it is going to be very, very tough. We watched Munster’s Round 6 game and they are playing very well.

“However, so are we and we will take a lot of confidence from that and concentrate on our own game this week and go over there with both confidence and belief.

“Yes, there has been a lot of talk about our young England players and questions asked are they good enough to play international rugby.

“Well I don’t think you get any closer to playing international rugby than going over to Munster and if those lads have any aspirations of playing for England then they need to put in a performance on Friday night.

“All the lads know it is a massive game and even before the Perpignan match we were thinking about Munster and the Round 6 game.
“We felt we could beat Perpignan at home so we already had Munster on our minds.”

The Saints made a blistering start to the Pool stages, beating Munster 31-27 in a Franklin’s Gardens thriller, with Mallinder adding: “The win over Munster in Round 1 was massive and good for our belief.

“We had done well in the Premiership last season but we needed to prove we could move on and take a step up against a top side.

“We showed we can compete and, although we only won narrowly, we showed we are close and we have it all to play for in Round 6.

“We are still building at Saints but we have a good squad and the experiences are all improving us as a side – we are really looking forward to this match more in excitement than suffering sleepless nights.”

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