'Fearless' Saints go hunting for French scalp
Friday 16 October 2009
According to Salvador Dali, the railway station in Perpignan was "the centre of the universe." He said he got his best ideas sitting in the waiting room there. Up the road in the Stade Aime-Giral tonight, Jim Mallinder will be thinking of nothing more surreal than the sight of a greater points haul for the visitors on the scoreboard.
After watching his side launch their Heineken Cup campaign with a stunning 31-27 victory against the might of Munster on home ground at Franklin's Gardens on Saturday, Northampton's director of rugby has ordered his charges to remain "calm and focused" for a vital test of their mettle in the Catalan rugby cauldron.
"We will have to reproduce the attitude we took into the game with Munster to get a positive result against Perpignan in their own stadium," Mallinder said. "It is a hostile place to play and their fans will create an intense atmosphere. But it is up to us to remain calm and stay focused on what we have to do."
Mallinder has named an unchanged starting line up and bench for the Saints' first visit to the Aime-Giral – against a Perpignan side who will have a point to prove after their shock defeat away to Treviso last weekend. "We want to win the Heineken Cup," Dylan Hartley, Northampton's hooker and captain, declared by way of a rallying cry. "We're new to the competition as a squad. I believe that will help us, and we will have no fear.
"Perpignan are the Top 14 champions and are set in the heartland of rugby in the south of France. I've never played them before. We are going into the unknown, but I'm excited about the challenge. It's definitely achievable for us to qualify from this pool. We have an awesome team spirit, a great squad, great strength in depth and a good balance of youth and experience. We are a team who want to do really well and go places."
The Cardiff Blues are also going places tonight – up to Stockport to face a Sale side barely recognisable from the under-strength XV beaten 36-17 in Toulouse last Sunday. Kingsley Jones, Sale's director of rugby, has made nine changes, wheeling out Charlie Hodgson, Mark Cueto and Andrew Sheridan for the match against last season's losing semi-finalists. "This is a massive game for us," Jones said, "not just in terms of giving ourselves a chance to advance out of the pool stages of the Heineken Cup. We owe our supporters a big performance."
The Blues are without their battering ram No 8, the former All Black Xavier Rush having succumbed to flu, but they are boosted by the return of Wales and Lions prop Gethin Jenkins. The loosehead, who has also been handed the captaincy, plays his first game since returning from South Africa, having recovered from shoulder surgery.
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