Saints have point to prove - JM
Northampton rugby director Jim Mallinder knows his side have a "point to prove" in Friday's Heineken Cup clash with Castres.
Northampton face Heineken Cup elimination unless they beat the French challengers at Franklin's Gardens, and the game's significance is not lost on Mallinder after Saints gave themselves a Pool Four lifeline with victory over group favourites Ulster in Belfast last time out.
That unexpected triumph at Ravenhill came just eight days after Ulster crushed Saints in bonus point fashion on home soil.
And while Northampton still have it all to do, currently standing two points behind Castres and five adrift of Ulster, a quarter-final place could still be achieved.
"We still have a massive point to prove in Europe and the players know what is expected of them on Friday night," Mallinder said.
"We need a win to keep our destiny in our own hands, especially as Castres are two points ahead of us in the pool.
"We also know that it will not be easy against one of the top teams in France. Castres have been in superb form over the past few months and have been playing a style of rugby which makes the most of their big forwards and speed out wide.
"It is a massive challenge for us and all of the focus has been on what we need to do on Friday. We are just about playing knockout rugby, so getting the win is all that matters.
"But we've been playing well recently, scoring good tries and defending well, so there is plenty for us to build on and we are in a positive frame of mind to get our home form back on track."
Mallinder has made three changes from the side that accounted for Aviva Premiership rivals Exeter last weekend, with wing James Wilson replacing Ken Pisi, lock Samu Manoa taking over from Mark Sorenson and England flanker Tom Wood returning to back-row duty.
Ulster are also in action tomorrow night, entertaining a Glasgow outfit that has collected just two points from four Heineken Cup games so far this season.
Ulster boss Mark Anscombe has made five changes, with full-back Jared Payne fit again after injury, Paddy Wallace replacing Luke Marshall in midfield and starts up front for hooker Rory Best, prop John Afoa and Iain Henderson, who packs down at lock instead of calf strain victim Dan Tuohy.
Premiership relegation favourites Sale Sharks include Josh Beaumont - son of former England Grand Slam captain Bill Beaumont - at number eight for Friday night's Pool Six appointment with visitors Montpellier.
Sale are already out of the quarter-final picture, but the likes of Beaumont, lock Tom Holmes and flanker James Doyle will look to impress in a team captained by Dave Seymour.
Former England wing Mark Cueto, meanwhile, starts at outside centre as one of 10 changes from the side beaten 32-12 by Saracens last Sunday, but Danny Cipriani retains the fly-half role.
Gloucester will be the first team through to this season's Amlin Challenge Cup quarter-finals if they defeat Bordeaux-Begles in France tomorrow night.
The west country club are top of Pool One by seven points, having won their previous four group games, including a 25-13 victory over Bordeaux three months ago.
"Europe is a difficult arena, whether you are in the Amlin Challenge Cup or the Heineken Cup," Gloucester rugby director Nigel Davies said.
"I always stressed how important the middle two (Amlin) games against London Irish would be, and we came out on the right side of those two games.
"Now, we have to hammer home our momentum in this tournament and we have to go to Bordeaux and get a result. It's as simple as that."
Jonny May features for the first time since suffering an injury last September, lining up on the left-wing, while skipper Jim Hamilton also returns and there are starts for Tim Molenaar, Dan Robson, Darren Dawidiuk and Dario Chistolini.
Hello, regular commenting on Orange News and Sport pages closes on Thursday 30 May 2013. We will continue to provide a commenting facility on major news and sport events on orangeworld.co.uk. Contact us via http://oran.ge/OWfeedback if you have any further questions. Thanks.