Saints look to march on in Europe against Ulster

It is Heineken Cup sudden death time with four French and two clubs from each of England and Ireland left in the hunt for the title of the 16th champions of Europe.

Five of the last eight – defending champions Toulouse, Leicester Tigers, Leinster, Northampton Saints and Ulster Rugby – already have their names etched onto the silverware with the French trio of Biarritz Olympique, Perpignan and tournament debutants Toulon bidding to join them.

The route to the final at the Millennium Stadium on Saturday, 21 May, is clearly mapped out for all the clubs with either Leinster or Leicester Tigers from the Dublin quarter-final and either Northampton Saints or Ulster Rugby from the Milton Keyes encounter enjoying home advantage in the semi-finals three weeks later.

The Saints are the only one of the quarter-finalists to take an unbeaten record through from the Pool stages and Director of Rugby Jim Mallinder declared: “We are going into the game in a positive frame of mind.

“We’ve played reasonably well over the past few weeks, got some good results home and away and everyone in the squad has put their hand up for selection. We’re certainly going to have a tough time choosing the team for this weekend’s game.

“But of course there are things to work on and we’ll be looking to improve in all areas ahead of what is a challenging game against Ulster this Sunday.

“Getting good results in the Premiership is one thing, but the Heineken Cup is a massive step up in intensity and physicality, especially when you get to the knock-out stages.

“We found that out last season and hopefully we can learn from that experience this year. We are a young team that is still developing and this weekend’s game is a good yardstick for us.

“Ulster have been on a good run of form recently and are going really well in the Magners League. They have shown repeatedly that they know how to win tight games, not just in the Magners League but in the Heineken Cup as well, especially with their win at Bath.

“Ulster have a pair of quality half-backs in Ruan Pienaar and Ian Humphreys, and they have excellent players throughout their squad. We will certainly have a tough job on our hands if we are to get a positive result on Sunday.

“We will need to keep our shape in defence, keep our discipline and take our opportunities in attack.

“We’re looking forward to the occasion, which will be massive for the club, and especially our supporters. “

“The Heineken Cup quarter-final at Thomond Park last season showed the value of having a large and vocal crowd behind you and we want to make the home advantage count.

“Ideally Sunday’s game would have been at Franklin’s Gardens, but the move to stadium:mk has given the chance for twice as many Saints supporters to get in to see the game and we’re looking forward to seeing and hearing them in the stands.”

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