Monday 27 January 2020

'That gave them motivation and we weren't in the same mental space' - Mike Ross' warning to Leinster ahead of Saints return

Mike Ross on the charge against Northampton back in December 2013
Mike Ross on the charge against Northampton back in December 2013

Des Berry

It was one of those unspoken statements that made Leinster realise it would be different this time.

Matt O'Connor's men travelled to Franklin's Gardens in December 2013 and humiliated Northampton Saints with a performance for the ages.

The comparison between the back-to-back series' of 2013 and 2019 are eerily similar.

The afterglow of their 40-7 domination carried through into the next week when the Saints came marching straight into the Aviva Stadium with redemption in mind.

Leinster were looking lively, moving the ball into space at will, until a smart set play put Tom Collins away, the wing's chip causing Rob Kearney to impede his line of running, giving away a penalty for obstruction.

This was back in the days when you took what you got, a penalty in this case, and moved on.

This time, there was no debate, no hesitation. Stephen Myler went to the corner in what was clearly a pre-planned scenario, a statement of intent.

Dylan Hartley connected with Christian Day at the 5-metre lineout, Courtney Lawes, Salesi Ma'afu, Tom Wood and Lawes again all drove it up the guts.

Scrum-half Lee Dickson didn't dawdle, fizzing a pass to Luther Burrell and his immediate dispatch to George North caught Luke Fitzgerald out of position.

It also caught Leinster cold in a moment that altered the image of the tie, Northampton having the character to build it into an 18-9 shock, Jamie Elliot's breakaway try putting a seal on a barely conceivable turnaround.

It could all be traced back to that decision to go for broke and Mike Ross knew what it meant.

"It was throwing down the gauntlet wasn't it? We didn't deal with it too well," said the retired Leinster and Ireland tight-head Mike Ross.

"As much as you talk about not being complacent, what happened the week before is there in the back of your mind.

"We knew they must have been frustrated, devastated, angry from what we did to them in front of their supporters.

"That gave them motivation and we weren't in the same mental space as they were."

In fact, captain Dylan Hartley continued the obsessive pursuit of seven points rather than three by insisting on the corner flag whenever the home side transgressed within striking distance.

There was also the unsurprising bating of the boys in Blue by Hartley at scrum time.

"Come on boys, let's go through them," called out the captain.

"We always used to love playing against Dylan. There was a queue of lads lining up to hit him," shared Ross.

"It was just the way he played the game, talking at the scrum as much for the opposition to hear as his teammates."

The controversial England hooker retired this year, leaving behind a career-long trail of indiscretions and achievements.

Whatever else can be said of Hartley, he led from the front as a big, bruising battler. On that evening in 2013, he was the perfect man for the job.

"I felt we restored a bit of faith in the shirt, in the club, the way we conducted ourselves," Hartley reacted then.

"We were physical, played for 80 minutes, defended for our lives, showed it meant something for us.

"The week has been very long. It is a long week, especially when you lose by 40 points."

Leinster have been put on notice.

Saturday, December 14th 2013: Leinster 9 Northampton Saints 18

LEINSTER: Rob Kearney; Dave Kearney (Zane Kirchner 60), Brian O'Driscoll, Gordon D'Arcy (Jimmy Gopperth 78), Luke Fitzgerald; Ian Madigan, Eoin Reddan; Jack McGrath (Michael Bent 56), Sean Cronin, Mike Ross (Martin Moore 60), Devin Toner, Mike McCarthy (Leo Cullen 72), Rhys Ruddock (Kevin McLaughlin 56), Shane Jennings, Jamie Heaslip (capt).

NORTHAMPTON SAINTS: Ken Pisi; Jamie Elliott, George North, Luther Burrell, Tom Collins; Stephen Myler, Lee Dickson (Kan Fotuali'i 52); Alex Waller (Ethan Waller 70), Dylan Hartley (capt, Mikey Haywood 72)), Salesi Ma'afu (Tom Mercey 52), Courtney Lawes (Phil Dowson 72), Christian Day, Calum Clark, Tom Wood, Samu Manoa (Sam Dickinson 67).

Referee: J Garces, France.

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