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Northampton 42-14 Worcester, Aviva Premiership
Mallinder: Saints hitting form
ESPN Staff
May 5, 2012
Northampton winger Chris Ashton walks off injured, Northampton v Worcester, Aviva Premiership, Franklin's Gardens, Northampton, England, May 5, 2012
Chris Ashton departed early on but Mallinder is hopeful he will be fit for the play-offs © Getty Images
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Northampton boss Jim Mallinder believes his side are running into their best form in time for next Saturday's Aviva Premiership semi-final visit to Harlequins.

Saints clinched the final play-off place with a 42-14 home victory over Worcester. After seeing Saints run in five tries, director of rugby Mallinder said: "We are learning all the time and this is our third play-off in consecutive years.

"Harlequins will quite rightly be confident about next week because they have been the most consistent team in the league. They have won the most games by a large margin so they deserve it. But we'll go in there and will quietly give it a go. There's a bit of a momentum. Look three games back and we were struggling a little bit but we went down to Bath and won well there.

"We got well beaten but had the must-win game down at Exeter and when we needed to we played well. We need to play well next week because Harlequins are a quality side and they are playing with confidence but when we play at our best we are a good team."

Saints have been hit by England international calls, injuries and suspensions during the season and Mallinder said: "You never want to lose some of your best players but that happens. But it's given opportunities to some other players."

Flanker James Craig, one of those to benefit, turned in an outstanding performance after figuring in Chris Ashton's opening try. Mallinder said: "James Craig is a really good example of somebody whose come in, stepped up and got better every time. Today he was outstanding. "Some of the younger lads coming off the bench are learning all the time."

England winger Ashton produced his trademark swallow dive celebration as he opened the scoring in the fifth minute of his final Franklin's Gardens match before moving to Saracens in the summer, but came off injured 14 minutes later. Mallinder denied that he had suffered the injury making his flamboyant touchdown.

"We all thought that at the time but I don't think he did it then," he said. "He's got a bit of a bad back and he's been struggling with that. Fingers crossed, he'll be all right for next week." Worcester rugby director Richard Hill believes that the 37th-minute sin-binning of skipper Shaun Perry turned the match against his side.

"It was a rush blood to the head by Shaun that cost us," said Hill, who had no complaints about the decision after the Warriors skipper put his hands in the ruck in front of his own posts.

Hill said: "We looked good until we had the sin-bin. We came back with our second try and they were rattled, no doubt about that. The last 20 minutes we were chasing shadows."

But Hill added: "There were signs of the rugby we would like to play next year. There were a lot of young players out there who performed really well."

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