Sexton injury the only blow as Leinster rout Saints

Northampton has been a happy hunting ground for Leinster in the past and they have the scent of a quarter-final berth in their nostrils yet again after this impressive win.

Sexton injury the only blow as Leinster rout Saints

[team1]Northampton Saints[/team1][score1]16[/score1][team2]Leinster[/team2][score2]43[/score2][/score]

Northampton has been a happy hunting ground for Leinster in the past and they have the scent of a quarter-final berth in their nostrils yet again after a deeply impressive defeat of the Saints in Pool 1 of the Heineken Champions Cup on Saturday afternoon.

The province scored seven tries to just one in response from the English side. It wasn't all plain sailing, particularly in a fiercely contested first-half, but wins like this would suggest that Marseille in May may well be a date for their diary this season.

It wasn't all good news. Jonathan Sexton limped off with an injury to what appeared to be his right knee just four minutes after half-time. The wait starts now to see how much time the Ireland out-half might miss. The Six Nations is only seven weeks away.

That aside? Wow.

Saints are top of the Gallagher Premiership and, like the visitors, they were two-from-two starting here under Kiwi coach Chris Boyd who had them playing a highly effective and attractive brand of rugby. This was a huge test and Leinster flew it.

Leo Cullen had made bold calls in favouring Jordan Larmour over Rob Kearney, Jamison Gibson-Park instead of Luke McGrath and Andrew Porter at the expense of Tadhg Furlong. Caelan Doris was given another European start at No.8.

Every one of those selections paid off. Handsomely.

Lunchtime kick-offs have a bad rep whether it's rugby or soccer but both teams tucked into this one from the off and it made for a tasty bit of entertainment. Until Leinster killed the contest with the third quarter still in mid-stream.

Franklin's Gardens is a tidy rugby stadium and the weather, mild and dry without a wisp of wind, played its part. The pitch, too. None of which would have amounted to much without the right approach and application from two capable sides.

Leinster actually struggled in key areas in the first-half. They reached the interval having conceded seven penalties to Northampton's two, most of them at the breakdown where they were undone by a number of turnovers to boot.

James Lowe passes the ball to Johnny Sexton during the match today. Picture: PA
James Lowe passes the ball to Johnny Sexton during the match today. Picture: PA

Teimana Harrison was especially annoying in that regard.

The visitors were even more careless with ball in hand at times. A slew of knock-ons inhibited their efforts and yet they paused at the break with three tries to one scored and at least two others left behind due to their own errors.

Saints had their own regrets. Tom Collins overran a brilliant grubber in behind the Leinster cover at one point when a handful of inches from the line and the defensive line scrambling behind him. It was all great fun and the first 40 minutes passed in what seemed like an instant.

Leinster had opened the scoring after just three minutes. Boyd had promised that his Northampton side would not temper their flair for this crunch pool meeting while acknowledging that they couldn't afford to be suicidal.

Cobus Reinach didn't get the second half of that memo. The South African scrum-half fired a loose pass to no-man's land outside Leinster's 22 which was picked up by Garry Ringrose and fed to Lowe down the left wing via the hot-stepping and breaking Jordan Larmour.

To be fair to the hosts, it didn't knock a jot out of them. Within minutes they were level at 7-7 when punching through the middle and then, ignoring the tried and detested conservative approach seen so often in rugby, feeding the ball out wide early to full-back Ahsee Tuala for the five.

Three subsequent Dan Biggar penalties spoke for the disciplinary issues facing the Irish province but they still looked dangerous every time they built up steam and tries from Rhys Ruddock on 16 minutes and Andrew Portter on the verge of half-time left them with a 19-16 advantage.

Sexton's loss shortly after the restart was an obvious blow but the out-half was at least injured in the process of setting up their bonus-point try. It was his pass that set Larmour off and that all ended with a Cian Healy try just as the ten was limping off in a foul mood.

Three minutes later and Sexton's replacement, Ross Byrne, was trotting through the cover and in for another five. Leinster were now 31-16 to the good with over half-an-hour to go, the Saints' Alex Waller just sent to the bin and a locked and loaded bench still to be let loose.

Northampton huffed and puffed for a time after that but with no reward and two tries inside the last five minutes, from Luke McGrath and Ed Byrne, put the gloss on the scoreboard and the seal on Leinster's capabilities and intent.

Northampton Saints: A Tuala; T Collins, M Proctor, R Hutchinson, T Naiyaravoro; D Biggar, C Reinach; A Waller, M Haywood, E Painter; A Moon, A Ratuniyarawa, J Gibson, T Harrison. Replacements: P Hill for Painter and L Ludlam for Wood (both 51); F van Wyk for Naiyaravoro (56)-58; P Francis for Tuala (58); M van Vuuren for Haywood (58); A Coles for Gibson and J Grayson for Biggar (both 63); C Tupai for Reinach (66); T Wood for Moon (66).

Leinster: J Larmour; D Kearney, G Ringrose, R Henshaw, J Lowe; J Sexton, J Gibson-Park; Chealy, R Kelleher, A Porter; D Toner, J Ryan; R Ruddock, J van der Flier, C Doris.

Replacements: R Byrne for Sexton (46); L McGrath for Gibson-Park, J Tracy for Healy, E Byrne for Kelleher and T Furlong for Porter (all 53); S Fardy for Ruddock (56); M Deegan for Doris (blood, 63); Doris for Toner (68); Toner for Ryan, HIA (74); R Kearney for Henshaw (78).

Referee: A Ruiz (France).

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