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Leinster Rugby vs Northampton Saints
European Champions Cup
Aviva Stadium, Dublin,
Saturday, 17th December 2016, 19:45

Television: BT Sports

Well, wasn't that nice?

Leinster broke their duck for European away wins in style with a comprehensive defeat of Northampton. They didn't quite match the 33 point margin from three years ago, but they were only six points off. That it was done after losing Joey Carbery and the rampant Rob Kearney to injury makes the margin all the more remarkable. They were helped by the remarkable, never-ending stupidity of Dylan Hartley, whose act of vicious thuggery on Sean O'Brien showed his "new man" act to be the sham it always was.

Typically, the English Rugby Union closed ranks this week and Eddie Jones's favourite neanderthal received a pitifully short ban which neither took account of the seriousness of the offence or his lengthy record of on-field violence. They're pretty much waiting until he kills someone and then they'll get tough, I guess. In any case, though the red card helped Leinster, the game was already going their way thanks to a dominant performance by the pack and they helped themselves to a bonus point with some excellent finishing.

Of course, we were here three years back and forewarned is forearmed so neither the Leinster players or supporters got too pleased with themselves. The events in the Aviva a week later immediately came to mind. Then, a complacent Leinster strolled up thinking they would win as easily as they had the previous week and the Saints took their vengeance with a 18-9 win which ultimately denied Leinster a home quarter-final. So straight away the mantra from Leinster was "It's only half-time". They're absolutely right to take this attitude of course, but from speaking to Northampton fans after the game, they're not expecting much from their team this time.

Back in 2013, Leinster caught a good team on a bad day, the proof of this shown in Northampton finishing that season as Premiership champions. This season, Northampton have been poor with only five wins from thirteen games in the League and in Europe. They've had some injury problems, but mostly they don't look a team with any great belief at the moment. As often happens with a team lacking direction, discipline has been poor too and Hartley's ban is their third of the season. Jim Mallinder is a fine coach, no doubt, but he's coming up on ten years in the job and it could be that things have gone a little stale and they're in need of a new voice. Mallinder is able to call on Kieron Brookes and Calum Clark this week and they both return from suspension. They are named in a team that shows ten changes to the side that lost last week.

There's an almost entirely new pack with only Jamie Gibson keeping his shirt from the last day. In the backs, Ahsee Tuala, Tom Collins and George Pisi (who skippers the team) come in to start. England internationals Courtney Lawes, Tom Wood, Ben Foden and Luther Burrell are all absent from the match day squad so it looks like Mallinder is cutting his losses at this stage and focusing on the Christmas league games.

For Leinster most of the talk this week was about the number 10 jersey and the academy's Ross Byrne is selected. He wasn't perfect when he came on last week, but crucially he didn't let him mistakes get to him and his cross-kick for Rory O'Loughlin's try was perfectly executed. The only other change to the team from last week sees Zane Kirchner start at full back in place of the injured Rob Kearney.

The main thing for Leinster is to play it cool and just play their normal game, especially in the first half. Use the pack and build the scores and don't give Northampton any hope. After two heavy defeats in their last two pool matches, they're pretty much dead in terms of qualification anyway. So Leinster just need to keep piling that misery on and let the result take care of itself!

Team Lineups

Leinster Rugby
Northampton Saints
Teams Zane Kirchner
15 Ahsee Tuala
Adam Byrne 14 Ken Pisi
Garry Ringrose 13 George Pisi (C)
Robbie Henshaw 12 JJ Hanrahan
Isa Nacewa (C) 11 Tom Collins
Ross Byrne 10 Stephen Myler
Luke McGrath 9 Nic Groom

Jack McGrath 1 Ethan Waller
Sean Cronin 2 Charlie Clare
Tadhg Furlong 3 Kieran Brookes
Devin Toner 4 Api Ratuniyarawa
Hayden Triggs 5 James Craig
Sean O'Brien 6 Jamie Gibson
Josh van der Flier 7 Calum Clark
Jamie Heaslip 8 Teimana Harrison

Replacements James Tracy 16 James Fish
Cian Healy 17 Alex Waller
Michael Bent 18 Paul Hill
Rhys Ruddock 19 Michael Paterson
Jack Conan 20
Ben Nutley
Jamison Gibson-Park 21 Tom Kessell
Noel Reid 22 Rory Hutchinson
Rory O'Loughlin 23 James Wilson

Not Considered
due to Injury
Jordi Murphy,
James Ryan,
Mike Ross,
Ian Fitzpatrick,
Billy Dardis,
Fergus McFadden,
Cathal Marsh,
Dave Kearney,
Johnny Sexton,
Joey Carbery,
Rob Kearney

Officials Referee: Romain Poite (FRA),
Assistant Referees: Tual Trainini (FRA), Mathieu Noirot (FRA),
TMO: Eric Briquet-Campin (FRA)

by Jim O'Connor, © 2016-12-16