Saints bid to benefit from last season’s European education

James Craig can't wait to get stuck into Champions Cup action (picture: Kirsty Edmonds)
James Craig can't wait to get stuck into Champions Cup action (picture: Kirsty Edmonds)

James Craig says Saints must beat Scarlets to avoid leaving themselves with a mountain to climb in Champions Cup Pool 3.

The lofty lock, who made his first appearance of the season in the defeat to Saracens last weekend, knows how important Saturday’s game against the Welsh side is.

Saints lost their opening game last season, with a late Racing Metro try robbing them of a losing bonus point at Stade Yves du Manoir.

And with the French team to come in a double-header in December and a trip to Glasgow Warriors following the game against Scarlets, this weekend’s encounter assumes huge significance.

Craig said: “You need a decent points total going into the last few games otherwise it’s very difficult.

“If you’ve only taken five or six points from the first three games, it’s tough.

“People are looking at you, not as an easy win, but rather than them doubting whether they can get anything from it, they think they can sneak a win.

“It’s important that we start well on Saturday and go up to Glasgow, put our best foot forward and get some points from that as well.”

Saints did manage to make it out of the pool stage last year, bouncing back from that defeat to Racing by winning four of their next five matches in the competition.

Jim Mallinder’s men were eventually thrashed by Clermont Auvergne in the quarter-finals, but Craig says he and his team-mates have learned a lot from last season’s European endeavours.

“We know we need to get ourselves off to a good start and win at the weekend,” he said.

“Then we’ve got Glasgow, who are constantly improving.

“They’re a side who beat us two years ago so if we want to get out of the pool we’re going to have to pick up points on the road.

“That second game, against Glasgow, hopefully we can go up there to win and we need to make sure that we learn from last year. If we are losing, we have to get something from the game.

“In the Racing game last season, we had a bonus point late on and then lost it.

“We’re constantly learning and we’ve talked about last year in particular.”

Prior to last weekend’s start against Saracens, Craig’s most recent Saints appearance was in the final game of the 2014/15 regular season, at Leicester.

And the 27-year-old said: “I had a calf tear in pre-season and the Sarries week was my first week training so I didn’t expect my name to be up there on the Wednesday, but it was and I was buzzing to get back out there.

“Hopefully I didn’t do that badly, but the lungs were struggling a bit.

“I had been working hard in the gym and I pride myself on not letting my fitness get too bad, but I need to keep working on it and make sure it gets back to the level it was at.

“Nobby (forwards coach Dorian West) told me on the Wednesday that I would be playing and he showed a lot of faith in me.”

And now Craig can’t wait for another taste of the action this weekend.

“It should be a good occasion,” said the lofty lock.

“Those evening games at the Gardens are always a bit more special.

“The atmosphere will be buzzing and hopefully it will be a bit more of an exciting game for the fans to watch than it was last week.”