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Saints 16 – 43 Leinster: Clinical Leinster down Northampton

A clinical performance from four-time champions Leinster saw Saints fall to a 16-43 defeat in their round three Heineken Champions Cup clash at Franklin’s Gardens.

It was a promising first-half showing from Saints, standing tall in the face of Leinster’s attacking threat while providing more than a few of their own, with Ahsee Tuala scoring in the corner and Dan Biggar kicking three penalties.

However, a ruthless passage of play where two tries were scored in a matter of minutes, to go with a brutal defensive showing – led in particular by man-of-the-match Josh van der Flier – put some daylight between the sides and Saints could not claw their way back into the clash.

The first try came very much against the run of play. Saints were building the phases deep inside the 22, but a misplaced pass gifted Ringrose possession and after Jordan Larmour burst into space, a support line from James Lowe saw him race away under the sticks.

Unperturbed, back Saints came with the perfect response. Ahsee Tuala carried hard in midfield to get go-forward ball up towards the 22. After starting the move, it was fitting that he was the one to cash in on the overlap out wide once the Leinster defence was sucked in.

As impressive as both teams were with ball in hand, it could have been even better as several chances went begging. Twice Lowe broke into the Saints 22 only for the support runners to spill the ball, while Tom Collins just overran a chip from Cobus Reinach in the Leinster in-goal area. At least for Collins, Biggar put the hosts into the lead straight after thanks to an advantage for offside.

Larmour continued to cause Northampton problems, feeding Jamison Gibson-Park on the outside after breaking the line once more. A five-pointer looked inevitable, but somehow Reinach managed to get back to make a world-class try-saving tackle. Leinster regrouped though as Ruddock barrelled over a few phases later.

Down the other end, Andrew Porter failing to roll away allowed Biggar to narrow the gap to just one. Moments later, the Welshman put Saints in the lead after Caelan Doris played the ball on the deck.

But just before half-time, Leinster got their noses back in front when Porter wriggled his way over from close range.

After the break, the momentum completely swung the way of the visitors. Sexton carried well to the line before sending Larmour through a gap and into the 22. Rory Hutchinson scrambled brilliantly, but once again the try came moments later as Cian Healy got over for the bonus-point score. It came at a cost though; Sexton suffered a nasty injury just as he gave the pass, and his day was done. 

Almost immediately off the restart, Robbie Henshaw combined well with Gibson-Park to break out of the 22. Saints were scrambling and a few phases later Ross Byrne, fresh off the bench, crossed in the corner. It got worse as Waller was sent to the bin for an infringement in the build-up.

Not that this double blow shook Saints. Tom Collins responded by dancing his way beautifully through the Leinster line and it took a fantastic tackle from Gibson-Park to stop a certain score.

Garry Ringrose then saw yellow after a dangerous tackle on Biggar. Still, the desperately-needed try still failed to come as van der Flier dislodged the ball from Naiyaravoro metres from the whitewash. Breaks followed from Proctor and Naiyaravoro, but despite spending the majority of the second 40 camped out in the 22, Saints were time and again repelled by a physical Leinster line.

There was even time for two late scores from Luke McGrath and Ed Byrne to add some gloss to the scoreline. Saints now head to Dublin for the return fixture, with memories of the 2013 reversal under similar circumstances firmly in mind.

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