Leinster extended their lead at the top of Pool 1 in the Heineken Champions Cup following a highly impressive bonus-point win over Northampton Saints.
In a frantic encounter, Leo Cullen’s men recorded seven tries, three of which came during a blistering first half in which the lead bounced from one side to the other. Despite a try and three penalties from Dan Biggar, Leinster took the lead at half-time thanks to efforts from the explosive James Lowe, Rhys Ruddock and Andrew Porter.
Cian Healy, Ross Byrne, Luke McGrath and Ed Byrne added further scores in the second period to wrap up the 27-point win while the Saints failed to register a score during that time.
Leinster will now be hot favourites when they welcome Northampton to the Aviva Stadium for the reverse fixture next Saturday. However, there will be concern over Johnny Sexton who left the field after 42 minutes after he landed awkwardly following a tackle from Matt Proctor.
It took just over two minutes for Lowe to touch down for his side’s first try. The move started deep in Leinster’s half when Northampton had worked hard to overturn the ball. However, a loose pass was collected by Garry Ringrose and allowed Johnny Sexton to release his backs. Jordan Larmour’s explosive pace tore the Saints defence apart and Lowe ran a brilliant support line before taking the pass and finishing. Sexton added the extras to give his side an early seven-point lead at the Franklin’s Gardens.
James Lowe! 🔵🔵🔵
Great pick-up from Ringrose!
— Virgin Media Sport (@VMSportIE) December 7, 2019
That lead was obliterated just minutes later when Northampton got off the mark. This time, it was Leinster who were found lacking in defence as strong carries from Ahsee Tuala and Alex Waller set up an attacking platform. The home side moved the ball from one side of the pitch to the other, stretching the Leinster defence. Eventually, space opened up out wide and Biggar provided the final pass to Tuala for their opening try before the Welshman nailed the conversion.
Both sets of backs found ample space with the game continuing in a frantic manner. Lowe seemed certain to score his second following another searing break however, the Saints again managed to turn over possession. Moments later, Leinster were on the back foot only for Northampton to spill possession on the line. However, the referee brought play back for a penalty and Biggar kicked the home side into the lead.
This game was the definition of end-to-end stuff. Barely a minute later, Larmour once again showed his dancing feet before he released Jamison Gibson-Park who looked certain to score only for a terrific saving tackle from Cobus Reinach. Leinster retained possession and went through the phases before Rhys Ruddock touched down for the try under the posts allowing Sexton to easily slot the two points.
Jordan Larmour ⚡️
Rhys Ruddock 💪
— Virgin Media Sport (@VMSportIE) December 7, 2019
Leinster’s defence eventually settled into the game as they took firm control of proceedings. Dave Kearney and Lowe were both lively on the wings but when it came to the breakdown, Northampton had the edge. Mike Haywood and Tom Wood combined to make another huge turnover close to their own line as Leinster went in search of their third try.
Leinster’s discipline cost them and allowed Biggar to kick the home side back into the lead. Firstly, Andrew Porter was penalised for not rolling away and minutes later Leinster were again pinged in the breakdown with Saints’ number 10 taking full advantage.
The visitors went on the hunt for their third try before the break. Once again, Lowe was the spark in their attack but Gibson-Park was unable to collect the pass cleanly and Northampton breathed a sigh of relief. Eventually, the score came in the 38th minute following a penalty against the home side for playing the ball illegally on the ground. Sexton kicked to the corner and from the subsequent lineout and maul, Porter found a gap and forced his way over. However, the Leinster captain sliced his kick and the conversion was missed.
Leinster immediately went on the attack in the second-half with Northampton repeatedly penalised in the phases. In the end, it was Healy who touched down following brilliant work from their front five, and just two minutes later, substitute Ross Byrne scored another try following good work in the ruck from Caelan Doris. The 24-year-old added the extras to Healy’s scores but saw the conversion hit the post on his second attempt. To make matters worse, Saints had Waller yellow carded for persistent ill-discipline as Leinster stretched their lead to 15 points.
Ringrose joined Waller in the bin following a dangerous tackle on Biggar and Saints looked to make use of the momentum shift. Proctor, Jamie Gibson and Paul Hill all carried well before a penalty was awarded for offside. Biggar went to the corner and Northampton set up a promising attack only for Taquele Naiyaravoro to lose the ball in contact and Leinster cleared their lines.
As both sets on benches were emptied, the pace of the game noticeably lessened while the penalty count grew for both sides. The Saints continued to try and find their way back into the game but, repeatedly, it was to no avail as Leinster’s defence held firm. Instead, it was Cullen’s men who ended the game strongly as they stormed the Northampton line in the hope of a sixth try. Leinster remained patient and following strong carries from man-of-the-match Josh van der Flier and Max Deegan, Luke McGrath crossed. The visitors continued to pile on the pressure and Ed Byrne eventually found the space in the opposition’s defence to cross for the seventh try.
Northampton: Ahsee Tuala, Tom Collins, Matt Proctor, Rory Hutchinson, Taquele Naiyaravoro, Dan Biggar, Cobus Reinach; Alex Waller, Mike Haywood, Ehren Painter, Alex Moon, Api Ratuniyarawa, Tom Wood, Jamie Gibson, Teimana Harrison.
Replacements: Michael van Vuuren, Francios van Wyk, Paul Hill, Alex Coles, Lewis Ludlam, Connor Tupai, James Grayson, Piers Francis.
Leinster: Jordan Larmour, Dave Kearney, Garry Ringrose, Robbie Henshaw, James Lowe, Johnny Sexton, Jamison Gibson-Park, Cian Healy, Rónan Kelleher, Andrew Porter, Devin Toner, James Ryan, Rhys Ruddock, Josh van der Flier, Caelan Doris.
Replacements: James Tracy, Ed Byrne, Tadhg Furlong, Scott Fardy, Max Deegan, Luke McGrath, Ross Byrne, Rob Kearney.