Glowing Leinster display leaves shellshocked Northampton to rake over the ashes
Fitzgerald and O’Driscoll lead the rout for the visitors
Leinster’s Sean Cronin gets away from Northampton’s Phil Dowson during the Heineken Cup clash at Franklin’s Gardens. Phtograph: Billy Stickland/Inpho
Northampton 7 Leinster 40: It felt like Northampton were not there. Not that Leinster cared. Any concern that Rob Kearney might not replicate his All Black performance or foolish rants about Brian O’Driscoll being a fading force evaporated on Saturday evening.
Leinster, every one of them, sparkled to ruthlessly punish this inept Saints performance. They truly are a sum of the parts machine.
Take last season’s outhalf and coach out of the equation, or the late withdrawals of Cian Healy and Isaac Boss, and still not a bum note was heard from the orchestra.
The best example is Rhys Ruddock. Two weeks ago Kevin McLaughlin impressed off the bench against New Zealand. The most reliable of blindside flankers couldn’t get into Matt O’Connor’s 23 man squad.
There was no room. Same goes for in-form backrowers Jordi Murphy and Dominic Ryan. That bottleneck will need to be loosened next season but Ruddock won’t be going anywhere. Except upwards.
Luke Fitzgerald is another inspiring story. He popped up everywhere and crossing for four tries, one of which was disallowed due to Seán Cronin’s forward pass after the hooker had brushed past Saints captain Dylan Hartley.
It must be emphasised just how poor the Saints were and how they couldn’t possibly be as meek this coming Saturday at the Aviva stadium.
There was no fight in them, nothing nasty at the breakdown, just complete surrender after about 50 minutes (as Molly Malone reverberated the 13,475 crowd).
“It didn’t need me to go in there and give the lads a bollocking,” said a mortified Jim Mallinder. “That’s not needed. We’ve got a real quality group of players in there and they know they’ve let themselves and they’ve let the club down. So I would expect them to respond next week.”
Mallinder’s key selection back-fired. Beset by the last minute loss of James Wilson, already covering for Bed Foden, the coach went with Ken Pisi at fullback.
The marvellously astute O’Driscoll sensed the weakness, prodding one of those nasty grubbers he loves so much towards the Saints’ line after just two minutes.
Kearney thundered down on Jamie Elliott, Pisi was AWOL, and Fitzgerald pounced.
Ian Madigan landed the touchline conversion.
Specks of Northampton resistance – a late hit by Courtney Lawes on Madigan failed to ruffle the outhalf – were snuffed out five minutes later when the Leinster heavies sucked in enough defenders for the ball to be flashed wide.
O’Driscoll still needed to wrongfoot the cover with his second no-look, between-the-legs reverse pass in just his fifth game of the season. Kearney and Fitzgerald completed the job.
Next, Ruddock and Devin Toner brought the choke tackle back into fashion while O’Driscoll’s fabulously clean turnover ensured the briefest period of Saints dominance wilted.
George North’s only contribution was to judo flip Dave Kearney onto the Saints’ side but the Welsh winger was criminally underused by a retreating home pack.
Seán O’Brien is an injury concern ahead of this weekend, it looked like a busted face but was explained as a dead leg, but he made his presence felt before departing after 32 minutes.
Having busted the line, the other forwards dragged play to the left before Madigan bamboozled the Northampton midfield to allow Kearney, again, put Jamie Heaslip over.
That was it. Game over.
Northampton looked a fatally wounded animal and Kearney, most of all, was in no mood to let them survive to half-time.
Before a free kick he instructed Madigan to send it skywards before racing up and catching it. Another big carry by Ruddock brought matters into the 22 as Eoin Reddan punished some disorganised defence around the ruck. Having darted through unopposed, he side stepped the hapless Elliott.
Madigan’s conversion made it 26-0.
What followed was Switzer’s window dressing as O’Driscoll’s vision saw him pick off a shabby Northampton attack for an intercept try.
“He makes the right decisions at the right time,” said O’Connor. “A less experienced, not as talented fella probably doesn’t execute like he executes. If you ask him to throw the ball between his legs again he probably won’t do it.”
Lee Dickson did squeeze over to avoid the dreaded nil points at home but that merely motivated the Leinster reserves to up the pace again, with Zane Kirchner having the wherewithal to send Fitzgerald over for his hat-trick.
“I feel embarrassed,” said Mallinder. “We let the fans down. It’s not over but you’ve got to be winning your home games in the European Cup and then you go away and see what you can do. You don’t want it to be the other way around.”
But that’s what they must now do.
“These guys love playing in the Heineken Cup, ” said O’Connor when asked about the different priorities for Irish and English players. “They’ve been to the top of the mountain and they want to get back up there as often as they can and that drives the whole group.” Base camp is already behind them.
Scoring sequence - 2 mins: L Fitzgerald try, 5-0; I Madigan conv, 7-0; 7 mins: L Fitzgerald try, 12-0; 26 J Heaslip try, 17-0; I Madigan conv, 19-0; 36 E Reddan try, 24-0; I Madigan conv, 26-0. Half-time. 62 B O’Driscoll try, 31-0; I Madigan conv, 33-0; 67 L Dickson try, 33-5; S Myler conv, 33-7; 69 mins: L Fitzgerald try, 38-7; I Madigan conv, 40-7.
NORTHAMPTON SAINTS: K Pisi; J Elliott, D Waldouck, L Burrell, G North; S Myler, L Dickson; A Waller, D Hartley (capt), T Mercey; S Manoa, C Lawes; P Dowson, T Wood, S Dickinson. Replacements: G Denman for T Mercey (32-33 mins, blood), C Day for S Dickinson (half-time), M Haywood for D Hartley, E Waller for A Waller, C Clark for P Dowson (all 58 mins), G Denman for T Mercey (60 mins), R Glynn for L Dickson, G Dickson for S Myler (both 67 mins), T Collins for J Elliott (70 mins).
LEINSTER: R Kearney; D Kearney, B O’Driscoll, G D’Arcy, L Fitzgerald; I Madigan, E Reddan; J McGrath, S Cronin, M Ross; D Toner, M McCarthy; R Ruddock, S O’Brien, J Heaslip (capt). Replacements: S Jennings for S O’Brien (32 mins, inj), Z Kirchner for D Kearney (54 mins), A Dundon for S Cronin, M Moore for M Ross (both 56 mins), L Cullen for M McCarthy (60 mins), J Cooney for E Reddan (64 mins), M Bent for J McGrath (65 mins), J Gopperth for B O’Driscoll (70 mins). Yellow card – M Bent (68-78 mins)
Referee: N Owens (Wales).