Saints fly-half Hanrahan all set for the fixture he’s been waiting for

JJ Hanrahan can't wait for his first east midlands derby (picture: Sharon Lucey)
JJ Hanrahan can't wait for his first east midlands derby (picture: Sharon Lucey)

The first east midlands derby of the season was the fixture JJ Hanrahan looked out for when he made his summer move from Munster to Saints.

And now he can’t wait to get stuck into Leicester Tigers at Welford Road this weekend.

Hanrahan likens the Tigers-Saints clash to one he experienced back in Ireland: the encounters between Leinster and Munster.

But he knows there is nothing quite like an east midlands derby and he is eager to help his new club secure bragging rights on Saturday.

“I’ve obviously never played in this derby match and there’s clearly a lot of history that comes with it,” Hanrahan said.

“I can only really liken it to the Munster-Leinster rivalry that I had back home so I’ve got a bit of experience of that and the passion that comes with it.

“There’s probably even more passion when it’s a local derby and you’ve got the chance of putting one over your local rivals.

“For me, Northampton versus Leicester, when you hear the guys talking about it, it’s one you really want to be involved in.

“Local derbies that are really passionate and can get a bit heated are ones that every rugby player wants to be involved in.

“It really tests you in terms of how you react under that pressure.

“It’s exciting.”

Hanrahan headed to Welford Road last season, taking up a watching brief as Tigers squared up to Saracens.

The reason behind that trip was that his girlfriend’s family are Leicester fans, but the Irishman feels he is starting to convert them to supporting Saints.

And even if he hasn’t quite managed it yet, he doesn’t mind upsetting them if it means his team get the win this weekend.

“I went there because my girlfriend’s family are kind of Leicester supporters, which is a funny one,” Hanrahan said.

“They’ve got a passionate crowd there and they sell out stadiums, as Saints do, so it’s going to be a big one.

“It would be a great win for us.

“It’s a hard place to go so if we’re not up to scratch mentally and physically, we won’t get the result.

“We know what you have to do, so we need to do it on the weekend.

“Hopefully, come Saturday, we’ll get the bounce of the ball.”

Leicester have beaten Hanrahan’s old club, Munster, twice in the Champions Cup this season.

And Hanrahan said: “They were really impressive and Aaron Mauger coming in has added a spice to their attack.

“They’re moving the ball a lot more and they’ve got players like (Telusa) Veainu at full-back, who would beat anyone in a phone booth and is a key man for them.

“It’s about trying to stop their key men and trying to exploit them as much as we can.”

So how much belief is there in the Saints squad that they can win at Welford Road for the first time since 2007 this weekend?

“There’s always belief in this squad,” said Hanrahan, who started at fly-half in the 8-3 New Year’s Day win against Exeter Chiefs.

“What we’ve spoken about in the past couple of weeks is getting away from those spikes, those up and down performances where we’re good one week but not the next.

“It’s about trying to get on an upward curve and keep going that way.

“It’s easy to react after a loss, it’s about how you react after a win.

“Championship-winning sides are good at continually winning and if you want to have that mentality, that’s what you need to do.

“It’s putting a little bit of pressure on ourselves, but if you want to be up there with the best, that’s what you need to do.”