European Challenge Cup
Reihana's Saints look to Euro double
May 18, 2009
Bruce Reihana has backed his Saints side to secure a second European trophy on Friday © Getty Images
Bruce Reihana's Northampton go in search of their second major European trophy on Friday night, looking to add this season's European Challenge Cup to their Heineken Cup triumph in 2000.
The Saints will have the added incentive of securing Heineken Cup rugby next season should they defeat Bourgoin at the Twickenham Stoop, although there will be at least one English side cheering for the Frenchmen. Should Bourgoin claim their second Challenge Cup title then Wasps will qualify for the Heineken Cup due to their seventh place finish in the Guinness Premiership.
Reihana is not entertaining the idea however, believing that a Challenge Cup win and Heineken Cup qualification would be just reward for the Saints' remarkable improvement at the end of the domestic season.
"We have made big steps this season, particularly in the latter half when we have simply got better and better, and to win the European Challenge Cup final would finish off the season in perfect style," said the former All Black. "What has pleased me most about our progress this season is that we are now capable of closing down games, we have developed that killer instinct while not giving away silly penalties and handing things to our opponents."
The Saints finished in eighth position in the Premiership, a respectable return in their first season back in the top flight. The Challenge Cup provides a unique chance for the club to take their place at European rugby's top table.
"To qualify for the Heineken Cup as the European Challenge Cup winners is a huge incentive - some of the quarters and both semis showed just how big that tournament is, it is the sort of rugby you want to be part of," said Reihana. "Everyone is really excited and up for the challenge, we are confident we will be in good shape and the right frame of mind for the final.
"We played two other French clubs in the Pool stages, Toulon and Montpellier, and we expect Bourgoin to offer pretty much the same sort of challenge. Bourgoin have a very strong forward pack - we know they are powerful in scrum and line-out - and their half backs Morgan Parra and Benjamin Boyet control the game really well while as a team they are well capable of playing a flamboyant game."
Reihana's men will be cheered on by a partisan crowd, with Bourgoin's complaints over the staging of the final at Gloucester's Kingsholm having seen the game moved to Harlequins' Stoop - closer to Northampton and Bourgoin.
"With our season over except for the final, it is a match on which we are totally focused and preparing extremely hard for as we know how important it is for everyone involved with the Saints," said Reihana. "And that most certainly includes our fantastic fans so it is great to have the match at the Stoop. Tickets have been selling like hot cakes - it will be like a home game for us. All the signs are that we will have up to 10,000 of our fans at the game and we certainly welcome that as we feed off their energy and enthusiasm."