Leinster 60-13 Northampton Saints
By Brendan O'Brien
Talk of the town: The margin of victory. Nine tries to one for Leinster says everything. Northampton named a scratch side and paid for it. Not great for the tournament at such an early stage but it leaves the Irish province primed for top spot in Pool 4 ahead of ties at home to Montpellier and away to Castres.
Game-changer: Jim Mallinder’s team selection? Last week’s result in Franklin’s Gardens? This one was in the bag for Leinster as soon as they recorded that 37-10 win against the Saints last week. Leinster were sloppy in the first quarter and paid for it in going 13-5 down but it was ABC stuff after that.
Did that just happen?Heads turned left, then right, then left again like fans at a tennis match as TMO Eric Briquet-Campin ruled out Ken Pisi’s pitch-length intercept which brought the players all the way back to the far end before the referee overuled the overuler and they trekked back again. Bizarre stuff.
Best on show: Sean Cronin produced one moment of magic in the second-half when he collected a Garry Ringrose offload and put on the after-burners while evading a tackle with a shimmy of the hips. Scored Leinster’s sixth try and, in all, ran for 49 metres and beat five defenders. Not bad for a hooker.
Sideline superior: Leinster could have played eight-man rugby and still won pulling up. They didn’t, obviously. Leo Cullen's side again made good use of the maul but the back line is beginning to display a greater confidence and fluency with ball in hand, which bodes well.
The man in black: It wasn’t Romain Poite’s fault that the TMO got it wrong for the Saints’ intercept try. Pulled Northampton up on some blatant offsides with enough consistency to make his point early on. Decent, easy enough evening for the Frenchman.
What’s next? Leinster will spend Christmas week gearing up for a St Stephen’s Day Guinness PRO12 visit to Thomond Park where they renew their old rivalry with Munster. Northampton welcome Sale Sharks to Franklin’s Gardens three days earlier.in the Aviva Premiership.
LEINSTER 29 NORTHAMPTON 13
Leinster stormed to a 60-13 bonus point European Champions Cup victory over Northampton after a nine-try annihilation at the Aviva Stadium.
Saints' heaviest ever European defeat - eclipsing their 34-point losing margin against Castres in October - saw Leinster make it back-to-back wins over the English side and take a six-point lead at the top of Pool 4.
It was an improved first half showing from Saints, who led 13-5 thanks to Ken Pisi's interception try, but the hosts took an iron grip on proceedings with Adam Byrne's brace and efforts from Luke McGrath and Sean O'Brien.
O'Brien's seven-pointer on the stroke of half-time secured the bonus point at 29-13 and there was no let-up in the second half as tries from Tadhg Furlong, man-of-the-match Sean Cronin, captain Isa Nacewa (two), who crossed the 600-point mark in his Leinster career, and replacement Rory O'Loughlin completed the rout.
Hammered 37-10 at home last week, the omens were not good for Saints early on in the return leg.
After Devin Toner's charge-down of a Nic Groom kick and Furlong's bulldozing carry, Adam Byrne finished smartly in the right corner from Zane Kirchner's well-timed offload.
The young winger's try went unconverted and some sloppiness from Leinster at the breakdown allowed Northampton to bite back, Stephen Myler landing two penalties from three attempts for a 16th-minute lead.
Indeed, the visitors managed to open up an eight-point advantage against the run of play. Byrne was hauled down short of the line before Ken Pisi intercepted McGrath's pass and raced 80 metres downfield for a converted try, rubber-stamped by TMO Eric Briquet-Campin.
Nacewa steadied the ship with a penalty and then scrum-half McGrath turned a fumbled ball at the back of a ruck into a snappily-taken try, weaving in from 15 metres out for Nacewa to convert.
The Leinster skipper also added the extras to Adam Byrne's second effort, Garry Ringrose's defensive pressure on George Pisi leading to a dropped ball and the Ireland Sevens international hoovered it up to break from halfway and raid in behind the posts.
Although Groom prevented another McGrath try after he had been charged down again, Saints lost sight of the ball-carrying O'Brien at a late maul and the Tullow man was allowed to regain his feet and stretch over with Nacewa converting.
Two-and-a-half minutes into the second half, in-form prop Furlong powered over at the end of some excellent continuity, and his front row colleague Cronin followed him over the whitewash in the 46th minute via Ross Byrne's skip pass.
Young fly-half Ross Byrne, on his first Champions Cup start, tagged on a fine conversion from the left and Nacewa soon got in on the try-scoring act, wriggling over out wide following Jamie Gibson's sin-binning for kicking the ball out of a Leinster scrum.
James Tracy's no-look pass was the highlight of another multi-phase move on the hour mark which led to O'Loughlin's try in the right corner, and it went from bad to worse for Saints when Ken Pisi fumbled a cross-field kick and gifted the lurking Nacewa a second try.
There was not even a consolation score for Jim Mallinder's gallant outfit, the grounding of replacement Tom Kessell's try was inconclusive and then a final handling error with the try-line in sight really summed up Saints' woes.