Leinster secure European knockout spot with two rounds to play

Seven tries last week, another seven tonight.

Leinster secure European knockout spot with two rounds to play

Leinster 50 - Northampton Saints21

Seven tries last week, another seven tonight.

It's the consistency of Leinster's excellence that is taking the breath away this season.

Still unbeaten through the opening eleven PRO14 and European games, they secured their place in the knockout stages of the Heineken Champions Cup with this latest offering.

Ten points ahead of the Saints, their nearest challengers in the pool, they cannot now be bettered.

A home quarter-final appears to be a certainty. Christmas has come early in Dublin.

That's 93 points they have put on the English league leaders in the space of the last eight days.

These were supposed to be back-to-back battles of something approaching equals but the four-time champions played with Northampton like a cat would a mouse at times here.

The highlight was Garry Ringrose's hat-trick, his second in the European Cup inside a month following his input against Benetton in the first round, but you could wax lyrical about a whole host of Leo Cullen's players after a game that was never anything close to a contest.

Leinster struck early and then they struck often against a Saints side that was missing up to ten players through injury, plus two more – Teimana Harrison and Ryan Hutchinson – who were rested after the bracing 43-16 loss at home last Saturday.

Maybe it was that loss, or the 60 points they conceded when last at this stadium three years ago, but Chris Boyd's lads never looked like emulating the shock 18-9 win engineered by their predecessors in 2013.

This was lovely to watch at times but far too easy to stick in the memory bank long-term.

Maybe the most interesting subplot was the display of Ross Byrne who, in Jonathan Sexton's injury-enforced absence, played superbly at times and set up a handful of tries with some clinical kicking.

Byrne shipped a couple of hits before his departure in the third quarter but it seemed to be a policy of safety first as Ciaran Frawley replaced him for his European debut.

Stay fit and Byrne could be looking at some Six Nations duties in the New Year.

Leinster had the try bonus point in the bag by the 36th minute. That's eight minutes less than it took the week before.

Ringrose claimed the first two within the opening six minutes and Tadhg Furlong and Dave Kearney followed up.

It was sublime stuff at times against a side that played briefly with two men in the sinbin.

Picture: INPHO/Ryan Byrne
Picture: INPHO/Ryan Byrne

There could have been even more damage done before the break, which they reached 31-14 to the good, but the hosts failed to capitalise on a couple of searing line breaks by the superb James Lowe.

Saints showed glimpses of their abilities with two penetrating strikes for five-pointers in that half.

Dan Biggar dotted down after his own quick tap and a wonderful offload by Andy Symons and then Ollie Sleightholme pounced as the period came to a close.

Sleightholme's shouldn't have stood given Luke McGrath was clearly obstructed by the decoy run of flanker Jamie Gibson but it didn't appear to be a pivotal moment as the sides ran off for the break shortly afterwards.

So it proved.

Lowe claimed a deserved score shortly after the restart thanks to a superb grubber from his out-half and Ringrose claimed his hat-trick to stretch it out to a 27-point game with Henshaw and Kearney having efforts of their own scratched by the TMO.

Saints were actually starting to weave some attacking spells together in this half and full-back Ahsee Tuala waltzed through an enormous gap beside the ruck close to the hour for the English side's third try but their would be no fourth and bonus point.

A converted Caelan Doris try 13 minutes from time brought the scoring to close. That's 19 points from a possible 20 for them now as they turn towards the interpros.

What a place to be in mid-December.

Leinster: J Larmour; D Kearney, G Ringrose, R Henshaw, J Lowe; R Byrne, L McGrath; C Healy, J Tracy, T Furlong; S Fardy, J Ryan; R Ruddock, J van der Flier, C Doris.

Replacements: E Byrne for Healy (blood, 14-20); C Frawley for R Byrne (48); A Porter for Furlong (51); B Byrne for Tracy and E Byrne for Healy (both 54); M Deegan for van der Flier and J Gibson-Park for McGrath (both 61); R Kearney for Henshaw (62); D Toner for Fardy (69).

Northampton Saints: A Tuala; O Sleightholme, M Proctor, A Symons, T Naiyarovo; D Biggar, C Tupai; F van Wyk, M van Vuuren, P Hill, A Ratuniyarawa, A Coles; T Wood, J Gibson, L Ludlam.

Replacements: L Bean for Coles (HIA, 4); S Matavesi for van Vuuren and F Dingwall for Symons (both 51); A Waller for van Wyk (59); J Mitchell for Tupai (61); J Grayson for Biggar (63); E Painter for Hill (66); JJ Tonks for Bean (73).

Referee: D Jones (Wales).

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