Sean Cronin didn’t hesitate in labelling Dylan Hartley’s rush of blood to the head last Friday as “rash” and “stupid” but the Leinster hooker has warned that the incident and fallout from it could have a galvanising effect on a struggling Northampton side this weekend.
The English club pitches up at the Aviva Stadium for another Champions Cup engagement on Saturday where they will again face a Leinster side that, as was the case three years ago, embarrassed them on their home patch of Franklin’s Gardens.
Hartley’s forearm smash into the back of Sean O’Brien’s neck 64 minutes in has stolen most of the headlines since and intensified the spotlight on the East Midlands club which has been dogged by poor results and suggestions of internal strife this season.
“I don’t really know,” said Cronin when asked if Hartley’s absence could work in the Saints’ favour this weekend. “You hear a few noises around the place, (that) there could be something up with the club situation, I hadn’t heard it before.”
Cronin pointed to recent examples of teams reacting positively in adversity: Munster trouncing Glasgow Warriors after the dismissal of Keith Earls and Montpellier crushing Castres on Sunday after their tighthead Davit Kubiachvili saw red inside 19 minutes.
Northampton’s discipline has been appalling in recent months, something highlighted by the fact that they will have forwards Kieran Brookes and Calum Clark available for Dublin now that both have served suspensions for their own recent indiscretions.
Clark sat out three weeks after elbowing a prone Donncha O’Callaghan when the Saints faced Worcester Warriors last month and, while Hartley’s latest act is in keeping with a chequered CV, Cronin hadn’t seen that side of the England captain in previous engagements.
“I always thought he was pretty calm and level-headed. When he came on that time we managed to get two scrum penalties and I don’t know whether that fired him up a small bit. It was obviously rash what he did, stupid..”
That scrum dominance was typical of how the Leinster pack bossed their opponents last week and it was a critical factor in allowing the visitors to smooth over the ruffles caused by the loss of second-choice 10 Joey Carbery in the first half. Ross Byrne, only added to the European squad earlier in the week, gave a composed display in his stead and Leinster will ask the former Ireland U20 player to back that up on Saturday in Ballsbridge as the news on Carbery and Jonathan Sexton isn’t encouraging.
Sexton is still spending his days out at the Sports Clinic in Santry. He hasn’t actually trained with the club since before the November internationals while Carbery was visiting a specialist yesterday to discover if he would require surgery to his ankle injury. With Cathal Marsh also unfit and Noel Reid still carrying a foot injury, Leinster’s options at out-half should Byrne come a cropper are Isa Nacewa, who didn’t light the place up when used there at the start of his Leinster career, and the young and inexperienced Tom Daly who is more of a centre.
Better is the news of Sean O’Brien who, it has been confirmed, did not suffer a concussion due to what the Leinster injury bulletin termed confusingly as a “significant mechanism potential to cause concussive event” while Rob Kearney’s ankle injury has been referred to further medical attention. That apart, it’s rosy enough in the garden for Leinster who are top of Pool 4 and unrecognisable from the side that struggled so badly in Europe this time last year.
“Yeah, it is, and there is an excellent blend of youth and experience in the club at the moment that is really driving things. The older guys are driving standards and the younger guys are coming through and keeping the other guys on their toes.”
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