Leinster duo pull through Saints tussle
Leinster 14 Northampton 19
There were two results in Donnybrook last night, the more significant of which had nothing to do with the scoreline.
That Northampton secured a five-point-win is neither here nor there, compared to the relief Declan Kidney will have felt upon hearing both Sean Cronin and Isaac Boss came through the game unscathed.
And that both men reached standards of excellence none of their team-mates managed to match will have brightened Kidney's mood further.
Cronin, in particular, was dynamic in the loose, although his inaccurate darts at line-out time will not have gone unnoticed. Boss, meanwhile, passed the ball with precision as well as tackling with tenacity, putting in one first-half tackle on Paul Diggin that saved a certain try.
Other than that, Leinster did little to catch the eye. Defensively, they may have remained organised in the face of incessant Saints pressure -- Andrew Conway and Dominic Ryan replicating Boss' effort with timely hits on Noah Cato -- but the fact the European champions avoided a hammering had more to do with Northampton's predictability in attack than the home team's resilience.
Being predictable is probably the reason why Saints centre Jimmy Downey isn't joining Cronin and Boss on the plane to New Zealand next week.
But when Kidney wakes up this morning, it may be with a tinge of regret as Downey was especially impressive here, more so than another victim of the coach's cull, Luke Fitzgerald, who mastered the basics pretty well over the course of 50 minutes, but failed to cut loose at any stage.
In fact, it took until the 73rd minute for Leinster to put together anything resembling an attacking play, when Jason Harris-Wright scrambled over the line after an aggressive maul. With Mat Berquist converting, Leinster finally had some points on the board.
In time -- injury-time that is -- they would get seven more, Fionn Carr showing blistering pace to run clear of the Northampton defence to score a tidy try, which Berquist converted to give the suggestion this game was a close run thing.
The truth, though, is altogether different. From the start, the Saints held control, not by doing anything particularly special or inventive, simply by virtue of their structured and clearly defined game plan. Key to this was their out-half Stephen Myler, who scored three first-half penalties and whose tactical kicking ensured the visitors managed to keep Leinster on the back foot.
With the forward battle also edging Northampton's way -- and Myler finding gaps in the Leinster defence with his clever inside passes -- the English side's grip on this game tightened.
Yet Leinster stayed in touch, thanks mainly to the excellence of their defence before 12 minutes from time, Eammon Sheridan mistimed his pass out of defence, allowing Diggin to intercept and score. Ryan Lamb's conversion -- and a subsequent penalty -- kept the scoreboard ticking over for Northampton whereas Leinster didn't bother troubling the operators until the fat lady was in full voice.
Leinster -- A Conway (I Madigan 67, C Willis 76); F Carr, B Macken, E Sheridan (D Hudson 62), L Fitzgerald (D Kearney 50); I Madigan (M Berquist 52), I Boss (J Cooney 58); H Van der Merwe, S Cronin (A Dundon 50, J Harris-Wright 73), J Hagan; D Browne (M Flanagan 50), S Sykes (D Toner 29); K McLaughlin (S Jennings HT), D Ryan (L Auva'a 60), R Ruddock.
Northampton -- G Tonks; P Diggin, T May, J Downey (S Armstrong 62), N Cato (C Sadler 68) ; S Myler (R Lamb 53), L Dickson (M Roberts 30); P Doran-Jones (T Mercey 53), B Sharman (M Haywood 56), B Mujati (A Waller 53); J Craig, M Sorenson; C Clark (S Farmer 68), B Nutley, A Eustace (M Hopley h-t).
REF -- G Clancy (IRFU).