Tom Vickers’ Harlequins v Saints preview: Catch 22 for Mallinder’s men

TO WIN OR NOT TO WIN? - that is the question facing Saints director of rugby Jim Mallinder (Picture: Linda Dawson)
TO WIN OR NOT TO WIN? - that is the question facing Saints director of rugby Jim Mallinder (Picture: Linda Dawson)

Saints will be in something of a catch-22 situation when they head to The Stoop to take on Harlequins on Saturday afternoon.

Win, and the likelihood is they will be heading to Leicester in the Premiership play-off semi-finals a week later.

That is an unenviable task and no matter how much belief there is in the Northampton ranks right now, a derby date at Welford Road remains unappealing.

Saints have not beaten Leicester in the past seven meetings between the sides and lost 36-8 at Franklin’s Gardens at the end of March.

A semi-final reunion on Tigers turf would surely not be welcomed and while you can say you must beat the best to be the best, it may be better to face them on neutral territory.

Talking of the best, should Saints lose, they would most likely go to Heineken Cup semi-finalists Saracens.

It really is a rock-and-a-hard-place situation, but the consensus outside of the Gardens is that Saints may just prefer a trip to Barnet.

Jim Mallinder’s men have pushed the Fezheads much closer than they have the Tigers this season, losing by just a point to Mark McCall’s team in December.

And after seeing the academy and Wanderers sides win on Sarries’ new artificial surface recently, the first team might just fancy a crack themselves.

But if Saints do lose to Quins on Saturday, it would be yet another defeat to one of England’s top three sides. Hardly ideal preparation for a play-off against one of them.

Mallinder wants momentum going into the end-of-season shoot-out, and the pace gathered by recent thrashings of London Welsh and Sale will only be maintained with a win this weekend.

It’s certainly a tricky situation, but Saints won’t start to worry about the play-offs until they get past their return to The Stoop.

It’s nearly a year on since they were last there, and it wasn’t the happiest of days as Northampton shone in the sun, but eventually suffered late heartache.

This time, Saints should enjoy the trip to Twickenham.

And if things fall right in the next few weeks, they could just be back there come the end of the month.