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Mallinder wary of Perpignan threat

Northampton boss Jim Mallinder is wary of Perpignan's big-game mentality rising to the surface in Milton Keynes on Sunday.

Perpignan stand between Saints and their first Heineken Cup final appearance since they lifted the trophy at Twickenham 11 years ago. And while most bookmakers have installed Saints as favourites, Mallinder knows that a significant challenge awaits his players at stadium:mk.

He said: "Perpignan have got to successive French championship finals, winning one of them, and they are used to playing in big occasions. They have plenty of quality players, a big pack and lots of strike-runners out wide, and their overall team will take some stopping."

Mallinder added: "We may have played each other last season (Saints won at home in their qualifying pool, but lost away), yet those matches will have no bearing on Sunday's game. It is a semi-final, and in knockout rugby it only comes down to who can score more points on the day. Nothing else matters."

Northampton bowed out in the quarter-finals last term, beaten by Munster at Thomond Park, and the memory lingers among Saints' star-studded squad.

"Last year everybody was talking about us, saying that we had a good chance of going on and winning things," recalled Northampton and England full-back Ben Foden. "And then it all stopped very suddenly for us, so we know how quickly it is taken away. We need to enjoy and savour every moment of this and make sure we keep ourselves in the competition for as long as possible.

"You play the game for these sorts of moments, otherwise you would not be a professional rugby player. And, especially for me, the Heineken Cup is something I've always wanted to be involved in. I've always wanted to win it."

Perpignan have won four and lost four of their Heineken Cup knockout games, reaching the semi-finals following a dramatic success against Toulon in Barcelona.

Perpignan's France international prop Nicolas Mas said: "Our progression in the Heineken Cup this season is much better than in previous years. We qualified for the knockout stages - which is a considerable achievement - and now we are about to play for our ticket for the final.

"If we can manage to qualify for the final by beating Northampton, I would quite fancy Toulouse to win their semi-final against Leinster so we can have an all-French final at the Millennium Stadium next month."

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