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Jim Mallinder relishing facing Dan Carter

Published 11/12/2015

New Zealand World Cup winner Dan Carter will make his Racing 92 debut against Northampton on Saturday
New Zealand World Cup winner Dan Carter will make his Racing 92 debut against Northampton on Saturday

Northampton boss Jim Mallinder says Saints will relish the challenge posed by Racing 92 and World Cup winner Dan Carter in Paris on Saturday.

The Pool Three clash at Stade Yves-du-Manoir will see New Zealand fly-half superstar Dan Carter make his Racing debut and start an association with a club reputed to be paying him £1million per year.

Northampton, though, have no intention of being distracted by Racing parading their stellar new signing, having launched their European campaign through successive victories over the Scarlets and Glasgow.

"We are not playing brilliantly, but we are winning games and we are generating some momentum," said Mallinder, who welcomes back Courtney Lawes following a knee injury, although Lawes' fellow England forwards Dylan Hartley (concussion) and Tom Wood (shoulder) remain sidelined.

"We are working hard for our victories. We are doing okay, but we are not getting carried away.

"We have got some big players who are out at the moment, and we have big games coming up, but the young players in the squad are stepping up and winning rugby matches for us.

"We are in a good position in Europe - we have won our first two games - and matches like this one on Saturday are why you play the game."

Lawes' return - he features at blindside flanker - is one of five changes from the side that edged out Aviva Premiership opponents Bath last weekend, with scrum-half Lee Dickson starting, in addition to imperious South African lock Victor Matfield, prop Alex Waller and centre Tom Stephenson.

Unbeaten Pool four leaders Leicester head to Limerick on Saturday for an appointment with Munster, having already experienced a memorable week with key quartet Manu Tuilagi, Ben Youngs, Ed Slater and Freddie Burns all agreeing new club contracts.

The Tigers have accounted for Stade Francais and Treviso in bonus point fashion this season, and victory at Thomond Park would make a major statement in terms of quarter-final ambitions.

Reflecting on this week's signings, Leicester fly-half Owen Williams said: "We all want success here, we want silverware, and to have players of their calibre committing to the club is a big statement for us.

"These big rivalry games in hostile environments are exactly the sort of challenges you want to face as a player.

"We have had a good start in the tournament and we have put ourselves in good shape after a couple of games, but we know these next games are going to be key.

"Munster did not take their strongest squad to face the Newport Gwent Dragons in the PRO12 last weekend, so you cannot read too much into their league form. This is a big contest, and they will be up for it."

Slater lines up at flanker alongside back-row colleagues Brendon O'Connor and Lachlan McCaffrey, with Graham Kitchener partnering Mike Fitzgerald in the second-row and England international Youngs returns to partner Williams at half-back.

Exeter recovered from a Champions Cup opening weekend defeat against the Ospreys to defeat Bordeaux-Begles last time out in Europe, but they face a major Pool Two examination against Sandy Park visitors Clermmont Auvergne on Saturday - an assignment the Chiefs must face without injured stars Henry Slade and Dave Ewers.

"If we lose this weekend, it will make it very difficult for us to progress," Exeter head coach Rob Baxter said. "However, if we win, then it makes it very exciting for us.

"Yes, there is pressure on us, particularly after losing at the Ospreys and not getting a point there.

"The truth is that you need around 17, 18 or 19 points to make it through a group if you look at previous years, so coming into your third game with just five points does put a bit of pressure on you, especially with our home fixture coming up.

"We should be excited about this weekend. We are second in the Premiership, and I've said to the lads that this is the weekend for them to go out and have the game of their lives and create an experience that they will never forget."

Ian Whitten takes over from Slade in midfield for the Chiefs, and there are also starts up-front for lock Damian Welch and flanker Don Armand.

Sunday's Champions Cup action, meanwhile, is highlighted by Wasps - boosted through fit-again England forwards Joe Launchbury and James Haskell returning from injury - seeking a third successive Pool Five victory when Bath arrive at the Ricoh Arena.

Elsewhere, runaway Pool One leaders Saracens visit tournament newcomers Oyonnax, and Toulon host Leinster, the team they beat in last season's semi-finals.

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