Saints aiming to repeat Irish raid
Last season's second game against Ulster gives Northampton hope for Leinster test, writes David Kelly
If Northampton Saints are seeking revenge when they arrive in Dublin tomorrow evening ahead of their Leinster rematch, their quest is destined to remain fruitless.
Revenge as a sporting concept unveils a deep-seated weakness. True, Leinster wounded them grievously last weekend, but, for Northampton, salvation lies within their own dressing-room and no where else.
They can contemplate no better place to begin their quest for redemption by mining the memory of last season's competition, at this precise stage in proceedings, when they did to Ulster what they so improbably seek to do to Leinster in Lansdowne Road.
Then, Northampton were also cowed by an irresistible force on their home patch, dismissed into searing introspection by the manner of their mental and physical implosion.
A week later, though, they found a determined resolve to overcome their many deficiencies and inflicted the first defeat of the season on Ulster, thereby slowly unravelling the northerners' hopes for a home quarter-final.
"We'll remember that," says Northampton's Kiwi Glenn Dickson. "That was a good experience for us, so we can dwell on that a little bit. We know we can turn it around, we know we can do it. It's just a matter of us doing it and putting it out there on the pitch."
But how would that be possible? Leinster's commitment will not wilt and they are supremely prepared for the spectre of a wounded beast determined to exact some semblance of retaliation.
"It's obviously got to be a big turnaround," admits the out-half. "It's going to be a huge physical battle. You saw what they did when they got front-foot ball. They played with a lot of speed and we weren't able to respond.
"It was a step above what we've met so far in the European competition and English Premiership.
"We didn't respond the way we needed to, but the great thing is we get another chance to respond this weekend, to put up our hands and show that we are a good team in this European competition."
It has been claimed that the naivete of the team's stunned response in the match's aftermath, as if they had been ignorant of Leinster's reputation, suggested an element of complacency. Dickson, however, strongly refutes this.
"I understand completely how people might think that, but I'd have to strongly disagree on that one," he responds.
"Our preparation went up a gear if anything last week. Dylan Hartley told us at the start of the week that this was a different challenge and we trained really well for it. The right messages were there and we knew this was going to be the toughest game of our season.
"But those first few minutes when they scored the first two tries, we didn't quite respond and that was the disappointing thing. Now at least we have a chance to put it right."
Europe has thrown up quirky back-to-back ties before and Leinster are well armed with such memories. They once stuck 92 points on a hopelessly travel sick Bourgoin side in Dublin before almost tripping up in the away fixture.
Bourgoin beat them in a return on another occasion, while Castres and Edinburgh have also avenged opening defeats in back-to-back ties. All occurred when the away leg came second, though.
Northampton are also part of the narrative, but here, at least, the historic trend favours Leinster and a familiar figure -- Gordon D'Arcy -- looms large in this particular tale.
Against the then Heineken Cup championsi 2000/01, captained by current Connacht coach Pat Lam, Leinster had emerged from England with a gritty 14-8 victory, withstanding two sin-binnings and a fiery home salvo in eight frenetic injury-time minutes.
In the Donnybrook return, a fired-up visiting side streaked into an 18-0 lead in the early throes, despite having Budge Pountney sent off for stamping even if it was a case, bizarrely for the skyscraping Scot, of mistaken identity.
Denis Hickie helped create a scintillating opening try for then 20-year-old D'Arcy and Leinster had reduced the damage to eight points at the break; it was 'Leinster-tainment' from there on, as the home side swept to victory, aided by D'Arcy's brilliant hat-trick.
Matt Williams' side would eventually, as was often the case in those distant, directionless days, conspire to cough up a knockout berth.
The 2013 model still has a key trio of survivors from that clash -- D'Arcy, Brian O'Driscoll and Leo Cullen -- experience which will be decisive in ensuring that Northampton are not given such a sporting chance at redemption this time around.
"Leinster have probably been the best team in Europe for the last few years and the way they prepare and perform, it doesn't matter who they play -- they're a very good team," admits Dickson.
Restoring their pride will be their first obstacle this week. Placing store in revenge would simply be a confession of the weakness that was so ruthlessly exposed last weekend.
LEINSTER'S HEINEKEIN CUP BACK-TO-BACK RECORD
P 28 W 20 D 0 L 8 Pts: F 93 A 140
Home: P 14 W 12 D 0 L 2 Pts: F 56 A 70
Away: P 14 W 8 D 0 L 6 Pts: F 37 A 70
Clermont Auvergne 15 Leinster 12 (1pt) Leinster 21 Clermont Auvergne 28 (1pt)
Bath Rugby 13 Leinster 18 (4pts)
Leinster 52 Bath Rugby 27 (Aviva) (5pts)
Clermont Auvergne 20 Leinster 13 (1pt) Leinster 24 Clermont Auvergne 8 (4pts) 2009/2010
Scarlets 7 Leinster 32 (5pts)
Leinster 39 Scarlets 7 (5pts)
Leinster 33 Castres Olympique 3 (4pts)
Castres Olympique 18 Leinster 15 (1pt)
Leinster 28 Edinburgh 14 (4pts)
Edinburgh 29 Leinster 10 (0pts)
Leinster 26 Agen 10 (5pts)
Agen 13 Leinster 25 (4pts)
Leinster 53 Bourgoin 7 (5pts)
Bourgoin 30 Leinster 28 (1pt)
Leinster 92 Bourgoin 17 (5pts)
Bourgoin 23 Leinster 26 (4pts)
Leinster 22 Sale Sharks 23 (1pt)
Sale Sharks 16 Leinster 23 (4pts)
Clermont Auvergne 20 Leinster 23 (4pts) Leinster 12 Clermont Auvergne 9 (4pts)
Leinster 21 Newport 6 (4pts)
Newport 21 Leinster 26 (4pts)
Northampton Saints 8 Leinster 14 (4pts)
Leinster 40 Northampton Saints 31 (5pts)
Stade Francais Paris 39 Leinster 6 (0pts)
Leinster 24 Stade Francais Paris 23 (4pts)
TURNING THE TABLES
Northampton Saints 6 Ulster 25
Ulster 9 Northampton Saints 10
Munster 22 Ospreys 16
Ospreys 19 Munster 15
Leinster 33 Castres 3
Castres 18 Leinster 15
Leinster 28 Edinburgh 14
Edinburgh 29 Leinster 10