Saints Flanker Clark on overcoming the Premiership’s top three

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Calum Clark took a step back and puffed out his cheeks in exasperation as the subject of taking on a top three side surfaced once again.

It’s a question that has been asked of Clark and his team-mates on a number of occasions this season: can they beat one of England’s best?

Pictures by Linda Dawson

Pictures by Linda Dawson

And it’s one that is getting tiresome for everyone involved, even those who put the players in the interview hot-seat.

This weekend, though, Saints get to silence their critics and finally put to bed a bad run against Saracens, Leicester and Harlequins.

The last time they beat any of those sides was in January last year in a 24-3 win against Quins at Franklin’s Gardens.

Since then, 10 games have come and gone, and Northampton have suffered disappointment in each.

But the sun is shining on Saints again after morale-boosting wins against London Welsh and Sale Sharks, and Clark feels solutions 
are being found as his team look to find an answer for their biggest problem.

“I try not to take too much notice of critics, unless it’s justified,” said the England man, speaking during a break from helping out at a local school. “They’re not the ones who are turning up to training every day and putting it in.

“We understand what’s going on, but we do our best to work out the problems and move on each week.

“We’re well aware of where we are as a team.”

And he added: “It’s been disappointing with the results we’ve had against top sides this year so this is a chance, even though there’s not much to play for, to test ourselves against a good side.

“We want to do that ahead of the play-offs and this weekend is a good chance to play against a good side.”

Saturday’s game also provides Saints, who will travel to Saracens or Leicester in the end-of-season shoot-out next weekend, with a chance to avenge one of their toughest defeats in recent history.

Last May, Jim Mallinder’s men led 23-15 at The Stoop in the play-off semi-final, only to ship 10 points during the final 10 minutes and miss out on a place in the Twickenham showpiece.

Plenty of water has flown under the bridge since then, and Clark is not fazed by a return to a stadium that holds bad memories.

“They’re a good side, but we’ve prepared as well as we can and we’ll go down there, play flat out and see what happens,” he said.

“I haven’t really thought about what happened there last year.

“We’ve been preparing and we’ll play them anywhere. We’ll go down there and give it a crack.”