Mallinder lauds magnificent Lawes

Jim Mallinder hailed a "sensational" performance by England lock Courtney Lawes after Northampton got their Heineken Cup campaign up and running with a 27-16 victory over Ospreys.

Lawes was at his destructive best for the Saints, putting in numerous bone-crunching tackles and dominating restarts during an eye-catching performance just two weeks before England launch their autumn Test campaign.

"Courtney was sensational, not just in his restarts, but his defence as well," Northampton rugby director Mallinder said.

"He is consistently making big tackles, he consistently makes big carries and he is doing that for 80 minutes now, which is where I think he has moved on in the past few months.

"He was in and out of games a little bit in the past. Now he is the sort of complete player for the full game."

Lawes, 24, has had his share of injuries during recent seasons, but he is now unquestionably operating at maximum efficiency.

"Getting injured really disrupted how I was playing, but I have managed a good amount of game time under me, my head is in a great place at the minute and I know what I need to do each game," Lawes said.

"For me, it has always been about having a run of games. I am playing a bit smarter now. I am not trying to really hurt people. I am looking after my body a bit more, and it seems to be working.

"I was trying a bit too hard to get back to my previous form, but it doesn't come overnight. You need the game time."

The only injury scare for Saints - and England boss Stuart Lancaster - was an ankle problem suffered by hooker Dylan Hartley just before half-time, although he managed to play on afterwards.

"I hope he has just twisted it," Mallinder said. "We will just have to see how he is in the next 24-48 hours, but fingers crossed, he will be fine.

"It was a satisfying win for us. We played well and scored three really good team tries. Defensively, we were pretty sound throughout, so we are happy with the win.

"It would have been lovely to have sneaked a bonus point at the end, but it means we are going into the back-to-back games against Leinster in December with everything to play for."

Number eight Samu Manoa, lock Christian Day and full-back Ben Foden scored tries for the Saints, with fly-half Stephen Myler converting all three touchdowns and booting two penalties as Northampton triumphed.

Wales fly-half Dan Biggar posted all Ospreys' points from a try, conversion and three penalties, yet they now have a mountain to climb in Pool One, a group that also includes reigning French champions Castres, conquerors of Northampton eight days ago.

No team has ever reached the Heineken Cup quarter-finals after losing their opening two group games, but that is the challenge now faced by Ospreys.

"We were down 17-6 at half-time, and when we got back to 17-13 I really did think we were going to turn the corner. We were building momentum, but we conceded a sloppy try," Ospreys head coach Steve Tandy said.

"No-one has ever qualified from losing their first two games, but we will be preparing for Castres in December as if we are still involved. We need to pick up points and wins.

"In this tournament, it is unforgiving. If you don't take your opportunities or get the bounce of the ball, then it does get difficult. We had opportunities, but didn't quite take them.

"The squad showed their true character. At 17-6 down, we could quite easily have folded and let the tournament go, but it is a group that fights. When people put them down, they keep fighting."

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