Jonathan Sexton injury the only dark cloud on Leinster horizon

Seven tries to one. A 27-point differential. This Pool 1 Heineken Champions Cup encounter turned into a rout but Leinster were just three points to the good when Jonathan Sexton went down in the tackle four minutes after half-time.

Jonathan Sexton injury the only dark cloud on Leinster horizon

Seven tries to one. A 27-point differential. This Pool 1 Heineken Champions Cup encounter turned into a rout but Leinster were just three points to the good when Jonathan Sexton went down in the tackle four minutes after half-time.

Northampton head coach Chris Boyd would say later that he had seen the writing on the wall for his lads even before the interval but this was very much a going — and entertaining — concern when the Leinster skipper buckled in pain.

What came next was revealing.

Leinster didn’t miss a beat. With their talisman on the ground and in trouble they went on about their business and eventually claimed a bonus-point try courtesy of Cian Healy. Sexton, meanwhile, was limping off with a face that would melt a candle.

“We had maybe four penalty advantages during that series of play so it is pleasing because other people are stepping up,” said Leinster head coach Leo Cullen. “You’re not relying on one main distributor, ballplayer. We had 14 men that were still going all-out attack.

“To have that killer mentality is important. It was a massive part of the game. No-one was looking around. They were sticking to their task and Ross (Byrne) comes on, kicks a conversion and then scores himself. It’s pleasing how everyone responded in that circumstance.”

Leinster, back in the day when Heineken Cups were still an aspiration rather than an expectation, used to be a collection of individuals.

Sexton’s misfortune and the unblinking reaction to it demonstrates again that this is all about the team rather than its component parts.

That’s particularly comforting now as the province, and new Ireland head coach Andy Farrell, await news on the scan done on his right knee after the team’s return from the East Midlands.

Players come in and players come out and they keep on winning.

They won in Glasgow the week before with a second-string and they strolled home here having opted for a number of younger and/or less experienced players over more established men.

All those calls paid off in trumps.

Jordan Larmour was exceptional at full-back and Andrew Porter, chosen ahead of Tadhg Furlong, proved just why it was a bad idea not to give him more game time in Japan. And then there was Caelan Doris playing like a vet at No.8.

“The competition is just healthy for the group,” said Cullen. “It is bringing out the best in people, generally. Even the guys that are losing on tight calls, no-one is skulking around at the moment.

“They know their chance will come. We’re happy to keep guys fresh as well, rotate the group and pick who we think are performing best. It’s not rocket science.”

Maybe not but it isn’t straightforward either.

Leinster’s brains trust are spoilt for choice when it comes to team selection but the mix is working.

The likes of Josh van der Flier and Rhys Ruddock have hit the ground running after the World Cup, Devin Toner is playing like a man furious at having missed it.

“Dev has been fantastic,” said Cullen who soldiered alongside him for so long in the second row. “He has applied himself so well and you can see that he wants to get back into the national squad. He’s still hungry and we’re still trying to provide the platform for him to do that.”

This wasn’t perfect. Leinster were unusually indisciplined at the breakdown in the first-half and Teimana Harrison was a complete pain in their ear for most of a first-half that delivered some breathtaking but loose rugby from both sides.

Leinster looked like they could score at any stage but they had to settle for three tries in the first 40 from James Lowe, Ruddock and Porter against a five-pointer from Ahsee Tuala and eleven points from the boot of Dan Biggar.

It was only 19-16 against the hosts at the break but, as Boyd said later, the writing was already on the wall.

“There are only three or four or five sides that can genuinely take their game to near test match level. Leinster are certainly one of them. We faced a similar but different thing last year in the Challenge Cup when we had Clermont in our Pool.

“They play a completely different way, they pose a different problem, but they just bring an enormous amount of physicality that you got to deal with one way or the other.”

Northampton had lost just once all season prior to this. They had momentum and a confidence imbued by Boyd who has been a breath of fresh air in the East Midlands and yet the speed with which Leinster moved up through the gears showed them how far they still have to go.

The quick one-two of tries after the break from Healy and Ross Byrne made that clear and another late pair, from Luke McGrath and Ed Byrne, put the gloss on the scoreboard ahead of a return date in Dublin which Leinster will approach with caution.

It’s six years since Leinster put 40 points on the Saints here one week and then lost to them at the Aviva a week later.

Once bitten and all that...

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, T Wood, 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; C Healy, 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); C Doris for Toner (68); Toner for Ryan, HIA (74); R Kearney for Henshaw (78).

Referee: A Ruiz (France).

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