Northampton v Leinster
Guide to the Game
Form guide: Northampton WWWWW, Leinster WWWWW
Match betting: Northampton 4/6, Draw 20/1, Leinster 6/5
Handicap betting: Northampton (-2) 10/11, Handicap Draw (-2) 20/1, Leinster (+2) 10/11
Madigan was always going to get his opportunity to shine as a starter in a big game for Leinster – that it has taken until December was caused by Ireland duty and a new coach's desire to seek comfort in a familiar option at 10. Now it is up to him to offer the guidance that his experienced team-mates will be looking for, without losing the impish devilment that marks him out as a classy stylist.
3 THINGS LEINSTER MUST DO
1 KNOCK ON WOOD
Stemming the influence of the Northampton back-row is key to this encounter. Tom Wood leads the way for Northampton with 23 carries, 28 tackles and 14 line-out wins and the Saints' set-piece is one of the most impressive in European rugby. Leinster's talismanic forwards will have to stem his influence, not to mention that of the vastly improved second-row Courtney Lawes.
2 TURN UP THE TEMPO
Leinster need to demonstrate their intent from the off by shifting this powerful Northampton pack around the park and not allow the home side to punch the holes which they require to create space in the wider channels. The half-backs will be key to ensuring the tempo is maintained; so, just as Ulster launched a fierce early onslaught here 12 months ago, that too will be Leinster's aim.
3 CONTROL THE GAIN-LINE
Ireland's November stalwarts in the pack – led by Cian Healy, Devin Toner, Jamie Heaslip, Sean O'Brien and Mike Ross – will be required to ensure that the visitors dominate the contact areas. Not only do they want to ensure their half-backs are protected, they will want to acquire field position early as they seek to stamp their authority on proceedings. This mouth-watering battle will be won up front.