Northampton boss Mallinder not giving up European hopes despite Castres drubbing
Northampton boss Jim Mallinder admitted Castres left his side chasing shadows as they suffered a European Champions Cup drubbing at Stade Pierre Antoine - but insisted he still has ambitions to go beyond the pool stages.
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Castres ran in five tries on the back of a dominant forward performance as they brushed aside Northampton 41-7, with the hosts having raced into 20-0 half-time lead.
Mallinder admitted the damage had been done in the first period but insists the result, which leaves Saints third in Pool Four behind Leinster and Castres, does not spell the end of their European challenge.
The director of rugby said. "We got to half-time and, really, it was game over, already.
"It doesn't mean we're out of the Champions Cup. It was a massive disappointment to come here and get nothing, but we won our home game so we're still in with a chance."
Northampton did not get on the scoreboard until the 72nd minute as Castres ran away with the game, the French side scoring twice in the opening period and three more times in the second half.
Mallinder said: "We didn't get on the front foot at all in the first half and the little ball we got, we didn't look after. We didn't get enough numbers to the breakdown; we tried silly offloads which were never on, and they punished us."
The visitors' performance was a long way from their heroics at home to Montpellier in the opening weekend of the competition, when Saints snatched a 16-14 win with an injury-time Stephen Myler penalty.
"That's the frustrating thing. We show that against big, physical packs we can compete. Today, we just didn't at all. We were never on the front foot. We were chasing shadows, basically," added Mallinder, who admitted the return of England duo Dylan Hartley and Courtney Lawes to the starting line-up had not given Northampton the physical and mental edge he had hoped for.
"You don't want to come out to France and give them as much as we did. Once a French team - and Castres are one of the best teams - gets on the front foot, and the sun's shining on their backs and the band starts playing, they're very difficult team to beat," he said.
"You look around the changing room we've got a good team with some good individual players, and - at the moment - we're not clicking, we're not playing to the best of what we have."
With a short turnaround to next Friday's Premiership match against Gloucester at Franklin's Gardens, Mallinder said: "We've got to get the confidence back in the players, and we've got the players who can deliver. We saw that last week."
Castres forwards coach Joe El-Abd, meanwhile, was delighted with the turnaround in the team's performance after they were taken apart in Leinster last weekend.
"Last week was difficult," he said. "We were taught a lesson in how to play European rugby - we weren't quite ready for the intensity.
"But we learned our lessons and have worked hard all week on what we did wrong, and it all clicked this weekend.
"Last week we forgot that rugby starts with the basics - the maul, the scrum, defence. If you don't get that right, you can't put your game together.
"The boys put things right today, and they should be happy. But that doesn't mean they can rest on their laurels. We've got a massive game coming up against Bordeaux.
"We've played three away games that are probably the toughest games I've been involved in, against Clermont, Montpellier and Leinster. Next weekend, we're going to come out with all guns blazing."