Northampton Saints director of rugby Jim Mallinder said he expects a knee-jerk reaction from his team in the East Midlands Derby after last weekend’s Saracens horrowshow.
Speaking after the announcement that Wales and Lions fly-half Dan Biggar will be joining the club in Summer 2018, Mallinder said the signing showed the club was moving in the right direction and Saturday is a chance for some redemption.
“You’ll see a knee jerk reaction,” he said “I’ll be so disappointed if the players don’t react. I think Leicester anyway focuses your mind without a doubt but we need, and we will see a reaction on Saturday.
“It’s another big game. As soon as we saw the fixture list, Saracens away, Leicester at home, Bath at home, they are three massive games and there are no guarantees. We have got to make sure we stick together. We have got a good squad. A happy squad. We know what we need to do to achieve success and hopefully we will get that this week.”
Saracens 55 Saints 24 at Twickenham prompted soul searching all through the playing staff.
“It has been a difficult week because it should be after a performance like that. We were terrible. It is hard to put your finger on it. Preparation went well. We talked about it but we really did play some good rugby in our preseason games leading up to it. The week before went well and suddenly we were hit. We were a poor second.
“You have massive discussions talking to people and you are watching the game all Sunday and that goes into Monday. You’ve got to get to grips with the situation but then you have got to park it and move forward because Saturday is a massive game.
“I won’t deny that the game worried me. It would be stupid to say that but I think we have got a good squad. I won’t say that the fly half issue was a massive thing but you do want a dominant fly half leading the team. Our southern hemisphere players are just coming back. Ideally we would have got them back two or three weeks earlier and got them settled into the team fired up and coming into the team but it wasn’t to be. But I do think we have got a squad that can get into that top four and be competitive.”
There are no easy games in the Aviva Premiership, arguably one of the most entertaining rugby competitions in the world, but Northampton fans are pining for the successes of recent history.
“You do look back and you ask why were we successful and why are we not doing as well at the moment. It would be daft not to,” said Mallinder.
“Looking at the new people we have brought in we have got that firepower. There are always one or two individuals who stand out but it’s not about individuals. When you have got the strengths of a Samu Manoa or a Louis Picamoles there are always weaknesses as well and probably as a coach you are aware of that more than the general supporter is. In general we have got a squad as strong as we have ever had.
“We have improved as a team, the way we play, the way we train. I am convinced if we put this team out against the team of six or seven years ago, this team would win because the game has moved on but other teams have as well.
“We have got no doubt that the competition is challenging. Professional rugby is all about winning and if you are not winning then the pressure comes on you. We are aware of that. That is why coaches and players are in the sport because we enjoy that challenge. If I didn’t enjoy that challenge I would have stayed as a teacher.”
A rugby town like Northampton offers no place to hide for Mallinder when results are going the wrong way. There is pressure but he says that is what signed up for when he came to the club.
“Its fantastic. That’s why you do this thing. There is a bit of madness in it. It does stop you sleeping at night. You do have various issues. Fans are not happy. That is the sport we live in. You want to see your team improve.
“We know what happened at the weekend but the good thing is we have got another game coming up and we can improve that team, we can work better, that’s my job and that’s what I love doing.”
He said he did find it irritating when players and coaches were the targets of snipers on social media (“I know how hard the coaches work. I know how hard the players work.”) however he is philosophical about the goldfish bowl he finds himself in.
“The problem for me going out for a meal in Northampton is that everyone I see reminds me of the game. It can be nice when you are on a winning streak but when you’re losing particularly in Northampton everyone knows the result and everyone knows me so I do have to find somewhere to get away.
“When I played during the amateur era in Manchester you could go out, people didn’t know who you were because it’s a big soccer city. This is different. There is scrutiny. I play tennis, the people there come down to the club. When you go out for a meal, there are people who come to the rugby club. But I chose it. I chose to come down here. Win or lose I won’t be going out in Leicester!”
“I have got to work with the board, chairman and chief executive. We have got to have a plan and move forward. We have had a lot of changes behind the scenes but one thing that has always been 100 per cent supportive is the board. I have never had any debate. A time will come when they or I will decide it is time for a change but the board and fully supportive giving me exactly what I want and we are together.”