Jim Mallinder revealed that his Northampton players are excited by the prospect of playing the Scarlets in Sunday's LV= Cup semi-final.
Director of Rugby Jim Mallinder said his Northampton players are excited by the prospect of playing the Scarlets in Sunday's LV= Cup semi-final.
It is the Saints' third Anglo-Welsh semi-final in the past four seasons, and while it is the first tournament meeting between the sides since November 2008 Sunday's game will be the third time they will have clashed in 2011/12.
So far it is one win apiece, with each side coming out on top on opposition turf. But with a place in the first final of 2012 at stake Mallinder says there is plenty of incentive for the Saints to step things up this weekend.
“This weekend is a semi-final. It's exciting and a chance to win something,” he told SaintsTV.
“We've got a home draw, but we've played Scarlets at home already this season and lost, so we've got to be on our guard.
“They're a successful side with players who like to play expansive rugby. They're well coached and while they like to put the ball through the hands they've got some good forwards as well.
“But if we play well we can win and get through to the final. Looking at the forecast it's looking like it's going to be dry and we're looking forward to playing some rugby.”
Meanwhile, the Scarlets have won their last two league games convincingly with maximum points and say that momentum will put them in the right frame of mind for another victory at the Saints' ground, despite the hosts formidable home record.
With a rich heritage and success in Cup rugby, the Scarlets say they are relishing the opportunity to be in the final running for silverware this season and look forward to the tough challenge of beating Northampton again on their own turf. Scarlets and Saints met twice in the Heineken Cup pool stages this season.
Wing Liam Williams was one of the star performers in helping the Scarlets through to the last four of the LV= Cup and his contribution has been recognised by his inclusion on the 'Breakthrough Player' nominee shortlist for the competition.
“This is one of our three competitions we're still in the battle to win and that's we are where we want to be – in the play-off stages. The more this group experience this type of intense rugby, the better. The vast majority of our Scarlets team on Sunday will not have been in this type of scenario before and they are eager and ambitious to prove themselves as a group,” said Head of Rugby, Nigel Davies.
“This game provides these with a great opportunity to go to Northampton and show what they can do, a lot of our emerging players have really pushed the more established players in our squad this season and so it is a great chance for them now on a bigger semi-final stage.”
Davies said that the team's ability and focus on their game without the ball had improved this year and the key was their ability to stay in tight games.
“I think there is a lot in our game at the moment, we know what we can do in attack, but this season we're showing we can stay in games and play with some composure. We'll take a lot from our last two matches and scoring maximum points – momentum and belief is a crucial thing in rugby,” he said.
“We have a lot of respect for the quality that Northampton bring, they will look to dominate up front and particularly at set-piece. They've come back strongly from the start of the season and will be fired up for this game on the back of our last meeting at their home and they'll have less disruption in terms of squad international commitments than us.
“That said, we have created more strength in depth this season and the boys who shown huge commitment this season throughout and have kept us in three competitions, deserve the platform and chance that this game brings us.
“Everyone's keen to be involved in this game, we have a proud tradition of Scarlets Cup rugby, we know what is about, and that preparation is everything. It's a one-off game, get it right on the day and anything can happen. It's just a really exciting prospect to be in a semi-final in the Anglo Welsh competition and it means everything to these players and our supporters to be in the fight to win something.”
The Scarlets make one change of personnel in their line-up that won against Connacht last weekend, with Dominic Day coming into the second row, Aaron Shingler moving to the back row and Josh Turnbull in for the injured Jonathan Edwards (calf strain).
Northampton: 15 Paul Diggin, 14 Vasily Artemyev, 13 George Pisi, 12 Tom May, 11 Scott Armstrong, 10 Stephen Myler, 9 Martin Roberts, 8 Roger Wilson, 7 Tom Wood, 6 Calum Clark (capt), 5 Christian Day, 4 James Craig, 3 Paul Doran-Jones, 2 Andy Long, 1 Alex Waller.
Replacements: 16 Ross McMillan, 17 Soane Tonga'uiha, 18 Tom Mercey, 19 Mark Sorenson, 20 Ben Nutley, 21 Ryan Glynn, 22 Ryan Lamb, 23 James Downey.
Scarlets: 15 Dan Newton, 14 Liam Williams, 13 Gareth Maule (capt), 12 Adam Warren, 11 Andy Fenby, 10 Stephen Jones, 9 Liam Davies, 8 Kieran Murphy, 7 Josh Turnbull, 6 Aaron Shingler, 5 Dominic Day, 4 Lou Reed, 3 Deacon Manu, 2 Emyr Phillips, 1 Rhodri Jones.
Replacements: 16 Kirby Myhill, 17 Phil John, 18 Peter Edwards, 19 Sione Timani, 20 Matt Gilbert, 21 Gareth Davies, 22 Nick Reynolds, 23 Iongi Viliame.
Date: Sunday, March 11
Venue: Franklin's Gardens
Referee: JÃ©rÃ´me Garces (France)
Assistant referees: Robin Goodliffe, Andrew Watson
Television match official: Trevor Fisher