Saturday 20 January 2018

Fearless Hartley has Leinster in his sights

Northampton 23
Perpignan 7
Heineken cup semi-final

Andrew Baldock

Dylan Hartley believes Northampton will relish the tag of underdogs when they go for Heineken Cup final glory against Leinster in Cardiff on May 21.

Saints reached their first Heineken final for 11 years by pummelling Perpignan in the Milton Keynes sunshine.

A victory arrived through first-half tries from full-back Ben Foden and centre Jon Clarke, with out-half Stephen Myler kicking 13 points to keep Perpignan at a safe distance.

Saints have won eight from eight in this season's competition, but Leinster have claimed the scalps of Leicester and Toulouse and are clear favourites.

"We go in as underdogs -- we've already been told that," said Hartley. "We were under the radar even going into this game but we've worked hard and we are in a cup final. It's a one-off game, and it's quite nice going in as underdogs. This team can beat any team on its day."

Saints' victory was underpinned by their dominance up front, with Hartley and props Soane Tonga'uiha and Brian Mujati playing a key role in preventing Perpignan from establishing momentum.


"We spoke about gaining parity up front, but we got a little bit of dominance in the end," added Hartley. "It takes 40 minutes of tiring out the opposition, and 20 minutes into the second half we started to get an edge."

Perpignan offered glimpses of their menacing physical presence and silky running, but at 20-0 behind after 37 minutes they had an insurmountable mountain to climb.

And even on the relatively unfamiliar territory of stadium:mk, Northampton were far too good a side to blow such an advantage, leaving France's wealthy club game without a Heineken final representative for the third time in five seasons.

Northampton's key players all came to the party -- Foden, Myler, Tonga'huia, flanker Phil Dowson and former Ulster No 8 Roger Wilson delivering huge displays amid the rarefied atmosphere of a European semi-final.

Northampton will know they will need to step up a gear against Leinster, whose all-singing, all-dancing approach deposed reigning champions Toulouse at the Aviva.

"We've done remarkably but we will look at Leinster and make sure we are accurate against them. They are full of international-quality players with recent experience of winning competitions," said Saints boss Jim Mallinder.

Northampton -- B Foden; C Ashton, J Clarke (J Ansbro 76), J Downey, P Diggin; S Myler, L Dickson (S Commins 79); S Tonga'uiha (A Waller 79), D Hartley (B Sharman 79), B Mujati (T Mercey 76), Lawes, C Day (M Sorenson 73), P Dowson, C Clark (Easter 79), R Wilson.

Perpignan -- J Porical (J Michel 70); A Plante, D Marty, G Hume, J Candelon; N Laharrague (M Edmonds 72), D Mele (K Boulogne 72); P Freshwater (J Schuster 60), G Guirado (C Geli 73), N Mas (K Pulu 73); R Alvarez (G Vilaceca 67), R Tchale-Watchou; G Le Corvec (H Tuilagi 50), B Guiry, D Chouly.

Ref -- G Clancey (RFU).

Irish Independent

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