Jim Mallinder knows it is a tough ask, against some old foes, but make no mistake about it: Northampton Saints have European Rugby Champions Cup glory in their sights.
The Saints have not gone past the quarter-final stage of European Rugby’s premier club competition since 2011, but the experienced director of rugby is desperate to surpass the club’s second-place finish that year.
Northampton were crowned Europe’s finest for the only time in 2000 and they will need to be at their best if they are to finish in the top two of Pool 4, which they share with Leinster, Montpellier and Castres.
“We are hoping to win the competition; it is as simple as that,” Mallinder said.
“We have won it in the past and I was involved in the team a few years back that had a fantastic run to the final and lost a magnificent game in Cardiff.
“We have been there and been very close, we know how it feels to have a successful run and it is something that we would love to achieve again this year.
“Domestic games are tough but you know what you are getting when you go to the likes of Harlequins or Saracens because you do that every year. It is good and exciting but when you play a Champions Cup game it is very, very exciting because things are different and a different level.
“In the first few rounds it is vital that you get a good start, get off to winning ways and get some points on the board.”
In Leinster the Saints face a European powerhouse who inflicted two of the club’s most heartbreaking moments in recent years.
The three-time champions beat the Saints in the 2011 final and also inflicted the Aviva Premiership club’s worst European defeat in December 2013, a 40-7 loss – although Northampton did record a memorable 18-9 win in Dublin the following week.
Castres are another club who will be well-versed in what to expect from the Saints as it is the fifth season in seven years where they have been drawn against each other at the pool stage.
You have to go back to 2009 for the last contest between Northampton and Montpellier though, when Mallinder’s men won the Challenge Cup contest 28-24 and a certain Louis Picamoles was among the try-scorers for the French side.
Mallinder, whose troops kick off their European campaign against Montpellier on October 15, said: “We have had some great games with Leinster and they are a quality side with some great history so they will be great to play back-to-back in December,” he added.
“We have played Castre a number of times and they are a strong side and very difficult to beat, especially down there, and they have been going well in their domestic competition.
“We have not played Montpellier for a while but we saw them play in pre-season and they have lots of good players, with a big South African influence there, with some massive forwards and they did very well to qualify for this competition last year.
“We have three tough teams but all are exciting and a massive challenge.”
European Professional Club Rugby (EPCR) is the organiser of the European Rugby Champions Cup, the European Rugby Challenge Cup and the Challenge Cup Qualifying Competition.
Follow all the excitement of another thrilling season of European action at www.epcrugby.com