Jim Mallinder defends Saints selection after Leinster shellacking
‘I don’t think that was a B team. We rested some players that have played a lot’
Northampton head coach Jim Mallinder during the European Champions Cup match against Leinster at the Aviva Stadium. Photograph: Niall Carson/PA Wire
The Aviva stadium press room has been party to some uncomfortable silences in its time. This one ranked. Jim Mallinder arrived before us a man under enormous strain but did he really expect an easy ride?
It was the Northampton coach’s decisions that directly contributed to this 60-13 humiliation. It was his decisions that have the club undergoing a miserable season which now includes three heavy European defeats and Leinster on course for a home quarter-final.
Montpellier must be livid to be the only side that faced the best version of the Saints back in October.
Mallinder oversaw the latest George North concussion issue and the Dylan Hartley assault on Seán O’Brien. It was he who took off Tom Wood last week, nobody else.
European Professional Club Rugby (EPCR) are considering a sanction for fielding a weakened side.
Vincent Gaillard, the EPCR director general, attended the post match press conference as Mallinder refused to accept that Northampton fielded a B team despite Wood, Louis Picamoles, Ben Foden, Courtney Lawes and Luther Burrell not featuring in Dublin.
“I don’t think that was a B team. We rested some players that have played a lot. Some of our internationals, when Ireland weren’t playing two weeks ago, were playing against Australia.
“Some of our players didn’t have the benefit of a week off so I wouldn’t call it a B team out there. There was quite a few of our first team regulars.”
In fact, Mallinder states below, it was not the first team.
He even tried to spin it.
“I suppose I was pretty pleased with our start, we arrived in good spirits, we were in the game, clearly winning it at one stage, which was pleasing.”
An intercept try by Ken Pisi, when he ran 98 metres, as Leinster were about to cross for a second try was how they took a lead that lasted eight minutes.
“A couple of injuries to two of our senior players, to George [Pisi] and to Calum [Clark] really didn’t help at all,” Mallinder continued.
“We saw the quality of Leinster, particularly early in that second half, and they performed the way we aspire to.”
Maybe Mallinder was copying Leinster. Leo Cullen did bench or rest several regulars at home to Bath last January. But they had enough quality below the surface to win a game that has proved a catalyst for so much of what has happened since.
Northampton are, clearly, not Leinster.
Before the match Mallinder spoke about the “good players” in a changing room pulling together and how it started with this fixture.
So, with that in mind, he was asked to explain the non-selections of internationals for a match on live television in front of thousands of visiting English supporters in the 38,584 crowd?
“I think it’s fairly obvious we were going to be struggling to qualify for the next round so it was sensible to make some changes. Some good experiences for some of the younger lads, clearly everyone is registered, squad effort.
“The reality is we’ve got three massive league games over the Christmas period.”
How difficult was it to make the changes?
“I think we could have put our first team in but those lads got a few knocks last week and I think it was the right decision. We will have to see what happens over the next few weeks.”
What message does Mallinder have for travelling Saints fans?
“I hope the Saints fans enjoy the weekend. I hope they thought the Saints lads put their bodies on the line and tried their very best. Clearly we weren’t the better team today but I certainly don’t think it was for a lack of effort.”
The press conference went on until the above paragraph was read back to Mallinder: Really Jim, bodies on the line, your team conceded nine tries?
“That’s my quote.”
There followed a stare-off. No blinking. Afterwards a clearly perturbed Mallinder asked for the reporter’s name. There will be more questions like that, many more.
North’s head problems. The Hartley suspension. Leinster 60-13 Northampton. A club in crisis, a tournament devalued.