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Mallinder revels in big occasions

Northampton boss Jim Mallinder is relishing a fierce scrap for domestic and European silverware at the business end of another demanding season.

Saints host their Aviva Premiership rivals Harlequins in the Amlin Challenge Cup semi-finals on Friday night.

Both clubs are past winners of European rugby's second-tier competition, with an all-English final guaranteed this term as Wasps tackle Bath in Sunday's second last-four clash.

"It's brilliant for us," Saints rugby director Mallinder said.

"It's the end of the season, and the kind of match that we want to be playing in. We will be giving it everything that we can to qualify.

"We've got a good squad, and we are going to have to use it now a little bit to make sure we get through to the end of the season fighting, but we don't want to go out early.

"We want to get through to the finals of both competitions (Challenge Cup and Premiership)."

Mallinder has made four changes from the side that accounted for London Irish in Premiership action last weekend, with full-back James Wilson and centre Tom Stephenson both starting, together with lock James Craig and flanker Calum Clark.

A powerful substitutes' bench, meanwhile, includes England trio Luther Burrell, Courtney Lawes and Tom Wood, with hooker Mike Haywood also among the replacements.

Haywood, who has had a shoulder problem, will provide back-up for starting hooker Ross McMillan, with his return a timely one given that Dylan Hartley and Matt Williams are both out injured.

Quins will be without influential fly-half Nick Evans, who suffered a knock during last week's Premiership victory over Leicester, so Ben Botica deputises, but wing Charlie Walker and prop Joe Marler have both recovered from injuries to start.

Quins lost both Premiership games against Northampton this term, but lock George Robson said: "I think we are confident at the moment that we can beat any team, no matter who it is.

"It is a one-off game, and we will go out there and enjoy it and hopefully come away with a good win.

"They (Northampton) are a great side and they have a similar attacking philosophy to us, so I think it's going to be a great game.

"We know what their strengths are, but we know our own strengths as well. It's just about focusing on those and being at our best.

"We have a great history in the competition and have won it quite a few times, so we know what it takes and what we will have to do.

"They have beaten us twice (in the Premiership), but both games were very nip and tuck. There wasn't much in them, so there is no feeling around the camp of 'oh no, it's them again', because we all feel confident of getting a win.

"They pose a big challenge, but we know it's going to be a good game and we are really going to enjoy playing them. It's really exciting stuff, and we are doing very well to be performing like we are.

"The more times we play in a knockout situation the more experience you get, and you get confidence from that."


From Belfast Telegraph