Jim Mallinder is determined to bring the European glory days back to Franklin’s Gardens sooner rather than later, even if the Northampton Saints chief is fully aware of the challenges that lie in wait.
This season sees Northampton Saints drawn in Pool Three of the Champions Cup where they will play Pro12 champions Glasgow Warriors, Scarlets and a Racing 92 side who will soon be able to call upon the services of World Cup winning All Black Dan Carter.
You have to go back to the 2010-11 European campaign to find the last time Northampton topped their pool – the Saints going on to lose to Leinster in the final.
There were crowned European champions in 2000 but since defeat in the 2011 showpiece have only featured in the knockout stages once, losing their quarter-final clash to eventual runners-up Clermont Auvergne last season.
They did however lift the Challenge Cup in 2013/14, the same season in which they clinched the Aviva Premiership Rugby title.
And director of rugby Mallinder is adamant it is time to put Northampton Saints back on the European map, although he admits that is easier said than done.
“We are really looking forward to the Champions Cup,” he said. “European rugby is always a big part of Northampton Saints.
“We have got a good record, we have won the competition in the past and a few years ago got through to a really exciting final against Leinster which we unfortunately lost.
“It is tough, uncompromising, but it is good. It is challenging and you look at the Scarlets who have made a fantastic start to their season, Glasgow we have played them previously and they are a tough team and they have lots of good international players as well as some good youngsters coming through who play an exciting brand of rugby.
“Racing are a class team out in France. We played them in the past and they have always been good there when we have played them and with the likes of Dan Carter joining them it will be tough with him added to the mix.
“But that is why you want to play in a tournament like this, go up against some real good sides, some good individuals, world class personalities and that is why we enjoy the challenge.”
First up for Northampton in this year’s Champions Cup are Scarlets, who travel to Franklin’s Gardens on Saturday November 14.
The Scarlets have won six of their seven league matches so far this season, but Mallinder knows just how important it is to win your opening home clash in the Champions Cup and will be after nothing less than success.
“If you are playing at home first up you need to win that one,” Mallinder added. “If you lose the first home game it really puts you behind.
“We have got Scarlets first up, we have a brand new looking Franklin’s Gardens as we have a new stand there, a new pitch, so we are looking forward to welcoming them and hopefully the crowd can get behind us and we can get off to a good start.
“We enjoy the domestic league because you are paying week to week rugby, but to play in Europe and travel to these different places, go and play against some of these teams is great experience.”
To see all of the 2015-16 Aviva Premiership Rugby season fixtures, please click here #AvivaPrem