By Bea Asprey
After Saturday’s entertaining Midlands derby, Leicester and Northampton must surely be favourites to make the Aviva Premiership final in May – and that’s certainly what the two coaches are gearing up for.
Leicester triumphed 27-16 at Welford Road to stay top of the table but rivals Northampton have two games in hand given the recent postponements caused by bad weather and can easily catch, or even overtake, the Tigers with good results in those fixtures.
Northampton coach Jim Mallinder is pleased with their standing in Europe – they’re unbeaten at the top of their Heineken Cup pool – but knows his side will have to return their winning ways in the Premiership to have a chance of making the final at Twickenham.
“We’ll have to concentrate on every league game to have a chance of playing them again on a neutral surface,” said Mallinder. “This result won’t dent our confidence. There were things that we did well; our defence and organisation was good, and we showed attacking intent. We now know what we need to do to be the best in the league.”
Mallinder’s Leicester counterpart Richard Cockerill is fully aware there’s a long way to go until the Premiership final and is not getting carried away with the Tigers’ position at the top of the table.
“We’re probably the two best sides in the league at the moment and this was a great game and a great win for us, but they won’t take this result in isolation and nor will we,” said Cockerill. “Neither of us has won anything tonight. We’ll just try to get as many points as we can and keep our form. I’m not worried about the table at the moment.”
Both teams’ title credentials will be tested during the Six Nations with four Premiership fixtures already scheduled, and the Saints possibly facing another two rearranged league games in that time. They will both be without a number of international stars involved in the championship and the strength in depth of their squads will be under scrutiny.
Even if they suffer a couple of defeats during February and March, Rugby World still wouldn’t bet against them making the Premiership final – and what a mouth-watering occasion that would be. Twickenham brace yourself for a cacophony of noise – just as there was at a sold-out Welford Road!