Leinster should have enough for wounded Northampton
English side should improve from last week but Leinster’s home record should see them succeed
Leinster’s Jack McGrath will hope to impress against Northamnpton once more. Photograph: Billy Stickland/Inpho
Richie Murphy, the Leinster skills coach was asked this week if there was any risk involved in moving the team from the RDS to the Aviva for tonight’s match against Northampton. Murphy looked around at the players on the astro turf pitch in UCD and shook his head.
“No, I wouldn’t think so,” he said. “We’ve been in the Aviva, I don’t know how many times now and we’ve lost one game which was Clermont this time last year, a sore point for all the guys.”
Anything other than a forced change would have been a surprise from Matt O’Connor and again an all Irish team will step out. But Murphy is right and Leinster will be reminded of how their European season imploded in Dublin last year. For a club that measures success more in terms of Heineken Cups than league titles, Clermont caught Leinster on one of their rare off colour days.
Northampton, fuelled this week by a strong sense of having fallen flat when it mattered in front of a home crowd in Franklins’ Gardens, are very much on a mission to regain lost pride as well as points. There is also a strong sense of beware the wounded team. Smart money says Northampton will not be as bad as last week and Leinster knows that.
Just how high the English side are likely to bounce is the operative question but given their form prior to last week’s whipping, they are capable of turning up. Jim Mallinder’s additions of Salesi Ma’afu to the frontrow and Calum Clark in the backrow adds abrasive muscle to the pack.
Ma’afu comes into tighthead to test Jack McGrath. Christian Day in the second row is the only other change. Ken Pisi has held the faith of the coach and is in at fullback. A good player he is but not at 15.
The second half try scored by Brian O’Driscoll last week takes the Ireland centre to 33 on the all-time European top try-scorers list – just two behind Toulouse’s Vincent Clerc. His centre partnership with Gordon D’Arcy continues as does three-try Luke Fitzgerald. Fitzgerald’s form is one of the brighter sub plots of the current team.
It’s worth remembering that Northampton are currently second in the Premiership table, just two points behind leaders Saracens. They have won seven of their nine matches, drawing one. If seasonal form is anything to go by last week will be viewed by them as an aberration.
Then again of the 16 tries scored so far in the pool, half have been scored by Leinster. They have also conceded the least amount of points so far in the competition (23 points) and have the best tackle success rate (92%) of any side in the Heineken Cup.
“We cannot hide from last Saturday, but we can’t let it define us either,” said Mallinder this week. “Leinster have shown us the level we need to be at to succeed at the top of the game.”
Leinster have won 15 of their last 16 home games in the tournament. It’s difficult to see them letting it slip again on the big stage as ticket sales for the match yesterday went north of 45,000.