Northampton director Jim Mallinder braced for tough season
Tuesday 21 August 2012
Northampton director of rugby Jim Mallinder is braced for the most challenging Aviva Premiership season yet.
England's domestic league opens with the customary London double header on Saturday week with any one of four teams capable of winning the title.
Leicester start at favourites despite losing in May's final to champions Harlequins, while Saracens and Northampton are also in the hunt.
"It's got tougher every year and there are no easy games," Mallinder said.
"There are sides who usually finish in the top three and they'll be there again, they have strong squads and have good structures.
"Below them are a number of improving mid-table sides who have pushed on a bit. It's going to be more competitive than ever.
"I don't think there are any outstanding teams out there but Leicester, Saracens and Harlequins are three good sides.
"There have been changes at Gloucester and Sale, while Exeter will continue to improve."
Saints were edged 25-23 by Harlequins in last season's semi-finals, conceding a try four minutes from the final whistle to leave them trophyless.
Having reached the Heineken Cup final the previous year, it was a sombre end to the campaign, but Mallinder sees no shame in their performance.
"We were disappointed after losing in the semi-finals," he said.
"You always want to reach the final, but this year's a new year and we've had a good pre-season.
"It did look very promising after reaching the Heineken Cup final in 2011, but we weren't that far off last season.
"We were only a couple of minutes away from beating the eventual winners - and that was with a team missing four or five of our top international players.
"You look back in disappointment, but we took a lot out of it, including younger players getting experience of big match occasions."
Swedish stars ask fans for £195 pledges on crowd-funding website
filmFilm producers sue Warner Bros for $75m over Hobbit films
musicThe 21-year-old beat Ella Eyre and Chlöe Howl to win the honour
lifeFull of the joys and want to help your fellow man? December isn't the time to do it
techLuke Blackall reports on precision engineered prams and babygros that monitor your child 24-7
World Cup 2014: Football Manager developers predict the team of the tournament - but which England player makes it into the XI?
Roy Keane omits Paul Scholes, Gary Neville and Ryan Giggs from 'greatest' Manchester United team
Man cycles down water slide in incredible stunt video
Napoli 2 Arsenal 0 match report: Nightmare in Naples leaves Arsenal to battle giants
Transfer news: Wayne Rooney sparks Manchester United exit rumours after rejecting new contract talks - reports
- 1 Nelson Mandela memorial: ‘Bogus’ interpreter made mockery of Barack Obama’s tribute
- 3 John McAfee's $100 'anti-NSA' device: 'this is coming and cannot be stopped'
- 4 Is Facebook making us forget? Study shows that taking pictures ruin memories