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Jim Mallinder mounts strong defence of English club rugby ahead of Saracens game

Northampton director of rugby Jim Mallinder has mounted a strong defence of English club rugby on the eve of Saturday's Aviva Premiership title showdown with Saracens.

England's dire World Cup performance is being reviewed by the Rugby Football Union and is expected to conclude later this month with the departure of Stuart Lancaster and his coaching assistants.

The remit for the inquest is confined to the national set-up, however, with the elite club game spared closer inspection even though the lack of world class players being produced for the Test arena has been highlighted.

Thirteen England internationals will be starting when Northampton and Saracens collide at Franklin's Gardens and Mallinder believes the gloom that has drifted from Twickenham to the Premiership is misplaced.

"You always have to review things and makes change and that is happening, but we don't need a root and branch review of the game," said Mallinder, whose team have lost two of their opening three matches.

"We have a cracking product and shouldn't criticise it too soon and easily. We have good players and good coaches. We need to be a little more positive about where we are."

Saracens director of rugby Mark McCall also refuses to subscribe to the view English rugby is broken, pointing to the fact that Stuart Lancaster's men led Wales 22-12 in their pivotal World Cup group match.

Instead, McCall has added his voice to the growing chorus of concern over player welfare as a brutal campaign that ends in a summer tour to Australia continues to unfold.

"This season is unique because of the home World Cup and it opens up the debate about the structure. The southern hemisphere season certainly makes more sense," McCall said.

"We've used 33 players in our first three Premiership game so far. The squad we've selected for Northampton will take that to 34 in four games and we think that's an absolute necessity given the demanding schedule.

"We need to spread the load as much as we can and try to be as competitive as possible in every game.

"We can't afford to overplay players and it's not straight forward to make sure people are fresh, enthusiastic and physically improving when you have this schedule.

"People have forgotten that the Premiership will run during the Six Nations, so that will be nine consecutive league matches."

Saracens top the table after three rounds and the only other club with a 100 per cent record are Leicester, who travel to Exeter. Chiefs director of rugby Rob Baxter approaches the season's schedule as a challenge rather than a headache.

"It's tough, but a lot of players still have the old school values of 'I'm a rugby player and I want to play on a Saturday'," Baxter said.

"They don't like to train that much, but they like to get out there on the weekend!

"I take the view that it's exciting, a new challenge, and you have to find ways to keep your players fresh come the end of the season.

"We're not predicting any issues and are certainly not talking about it negatively. We like to think we're well prepared."

In Saturday's other games, Bath must move on from the departure of Sam Burgess for Sydney when they travel to London Irish, while Worcester host Newcastle.


From Belfast Telegraph