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Northampton lose yet again but the margin wasn't the rout predicted for bonus-earning Leinster

By Liam Heagney
(Photo by David Fitzgerald/Sportsfile via Getty Images)

We came to see a burial and that is what we eventually statistically got, the Champions Cup hopes of Northampton packed away before Christmas after they followed up last weekend’s agonising home loss to Bordeaux with another setback at Leinster.


That’s 13 times on the bounce now – including the off-pitch defeat they were unavoidably given at the start of October when last season’s Premiership round 22 fixture at Gloucester was cancelled through Covid – that they have lost and the pressure will now mount for the rot to finally stop with their Boxing Day league assignment at home to Worcester.

In the wake of the December 11 Franklin’s Gardens loss to the French, boss Chris Boyd bemoaned that his charges were coming up with new ways to lose and they produced another variation of that theme at the RDS, quickly falling 14-0 behind before gutsily making a commendable fist of their troubling situation.

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Three tries they managed in riposte and it said much about how they fought for the jersey that Leinster were left kicking over 62nd and 72nd-minute penalties to see out their 35-19 win rather than running in an avalanche of tries which would usually be the last-quarter case in Dublin.

Much was made about Boyd making eight changes, following through on his suggestion post-Bordeaux to send ‘the youngsters’ to Dublin, but come the lunchtime kick-off at the sunny but empty RDS, it was Leinster who were ready to make the larger reshuffle of nine changes.

The late cry-off of Caelan Doris with a calf issue shipped with Ireland against Scotland on December 6 meant a first European start for Josh Murphy and the realignment of skipper Rhys Ruddock to No8. With Ryan Baird also included, it heralded three first time European starters in total for the hosts, which reverted back to two just before kick-off when Ross Byrne was promoted from the bench to start in place of his rookie brother Harry, who pulled up lame in the warm-up.

If that late reshuffling was a problem, Leinster didn’t show it as they were two converted tries clear just 16 minutes in. The first on three minutes came courtesy of some no-nonsense backline running following a scrum on halfway, the surge ending with debut-making Murphy scoring after Garry Ringrose had set up camp with a ruck.


A meaty penalty-winning hit by Fraser Dingwall on Byrne and HIAs for Ringrose and Jimmy O’Brien didn’t knock Leinster out of their early stride, Cian Healy burrowing his way over off second phase following a quickly tapped penalty.

Execution was an early issue for Northampton, possession being lost too cheaply, but they somehow overcame that shortcoming with tries either side of a Byrne penalty.

Having kicked a penalty to touch for their first visit to the enemy 22, Northampton lost the ensuing lineout. They were gusty, though, winning a penalty at the resulting scrum and opting to scrum down again, creating the space that helped get Dingwall over for the 22nd minute converted try.

Come 35 minutes, they had their second after Leinster conceded a scrum-five following a sloppy lineout. Off Tom James went and he had the gas and the physicality to power through the double tackle of Jamison Gibson-Park and Josh van der Flier.


The problem for Saints, however, was they couldn’t hold the 14-17 scoreline until the break, Ryan Olowofela agonisingly failing to net an intercept and the spill was fastened onto by Dave Kearney who scored in the corner.

Within minutes of the restart, Gibson-Park had exacted revenge on James off a scrum, darting in off set-piece ball to secure Leinster’s four-try bonus point. But Northampton were far from done, a Gibson-Park clearance kick getting charged down by the scoring Nick Isiekwe.

At 29-19 anything was possible and what followed was the most contested part of the match, plenty of messy to and fro where the scoring lull was only interrupted by Leinster twice playing it safe, calling on Byrne to give them points from the tee and keep at arm’s length a plucky Northampton side who were deemed to be fortunate Tom Wood wasn’t sanctioned for a breakdown clash with van der Flier.

LEINSTER 35 – Tries: Murphy (3), Healy (16), Kearney (40+2), Gibson-Park (43). Cons: Byrne (4, 17, 44). Pens: Byrne (28, 62, 72)

NORTHAMPTON 19 – Tries: Dingwall (22), James (35), Isiekwe (44). Cons: Hutchinson (23, 35).

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