North eyes Leinster double

Wed, 04 Dec 2013 17:31
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George North is targeting two wins over Leinster to keep Northampton Saints on course for a return trip to Cardiff for the European Cup Final next May.

Star wing George North is targeting two wins over Leinster to keep Northampton Saints on course for a return trip to the Millennium Stadium for the European Cup Final next May.

North knows every inch of the Millennium Stadium turf and would love nothing more than to crown his first season in the Premiership with an end-of-season trip to the home of Welsh rugby where Northampton were defeated by Leinster in a dramatic 2011 European Cup Final.

The 21-year-old burst on to the international stage as a teenager in 2010 with two tries on his Test debut against South Africa. He played in 15 international matches, including a World Cup tournament, before he managed to make his European debut for the Scarlets.

He has managed to cram an awful lot into his short career to date with a fourth place finish in the World Cup in 2011, a Grand Slam in 2012, a second Six Nations title in 2013, as well a series triumph in Australia with the British and Irish Lions.

He also touched down twice for Wales in their recent 26-30 defeat to the Wallabies in Cardiff to take his tally of Test tries to 17.

But his attentions now switch to the European Cup and trying to find a way to haul the Saints back into the reckoning for a quarterfinal slot. Back-to-back wins over three-time champions Leinster - a club Northampton have never beaten in Europe - would be just the ticket.

"It would be really nice to come home to Cardiff for the European Cup Final in May, but we have two very difficult games against Leinster to overcome before we can start thinking about that. We could and should have won in Castres in the last round, but that defeat has made our task all the more difficult," said North.

"As former winners, Leinster have proven themselves on the European stage time after time. They have a very physical pack and some superb backs, so we are expecting two high-paced and very tough games.

"The European Cup is a massive tournament and for those of us who have been playing international rugby this past month it will be a case of merely stepping across. It won't be a step down in standard in any way.
 
"For those players who have been keeping Northampton Saints going so well in the Premiership and Anglo-Welsh Cup while we've been away on Test duty it will be a step up in standard. But these are the games that everyone looks forward to."

The first in this Pool Four back-to-back series goes ahead at a sold-out Franklin's Gardens on Saturday, and North can't wait for his return to the Aviva Stadium in the Round Four clash a week later as has very happy memories of playing at the home of Irish rugby with Wales in 2012.

In the opening game of his country's latest Grand Slam campaign, he scored one try and made another in a 23-21 triumph.

"With Wales it has been a happy hunting ground for me, but this will be a different challenge. I'm sure it will be a very good atmosphere there and it's going to be another massive rugby occasion," he added.

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EUROPEAN CUP
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Pool 1
Team P W D L Pts
La Rochelle 6 4 0 2 20
Wasps 6 3 0 3 17
Ulster 6 4 0 2 17
Harlequins 6 1 0 5 7
Pool 2
Team P W D L Pts
Clermont Auvergne 6 5 0 1 22
Saracens 6 3 1 2 18
Ospreys 6 2 1 3 15
Northampton Saints 6 1 0 5 6
Pool 3
Team P W D L Pts
Leinster 6 6 0 0 27
Exeter Chiefs 6 3 0 3 15
Montpellier 6 2 0 4 13
Glasgow Warriors 6 1 0 5 7
Pool 4
Team P W D L Pts
Munster 6 4 1 1 21
Racing Metro 6 4 0 2 19
Castres 6 2 1 3 12
Leicester Tigers 6 1 0 5 7
Pool 5
Team P W D L Pts
Scarlets 6 4 0 2 21
Toulon 6 4 0 2 19
Bath 6 4 0 2 18
Treviso 6 0 0 5 4