Leinster to prevail if 14 returnees replicate All Black heroics
Anything less than fierce will see Matt O’Connor’s side fall at Franklin’s Gardens
They are also missing injured England loosehead prop Alex Corbisero, signed to replace Soane Tonga’uiha, so a repeat of Leinster’s intensity away to Ospreys in October and four points should be scooped up.
But wait, the elephant in the room looks angry.
2011 Heineken Cup
There’s plenty of residue from the 2011 Heineken Cup, when the Saints buckled under the anvil of Leinster’s mighty last stand. With Ben Foden injured, Northampton only have eight from then in today’s 23, to Leinster’s 13, but as a club they have not forgotten.
Calum Clark said this week they never will.
It perfectly sets the scene for a ferocious war. Leinster have to contend with a gargantuan pack led by rugby’s favourite villain Dylan Hartley.
Samu Manoa and Courtney Lawes are arguably the best secondrow pairing in the competition, certainly the most agile and unforgiving.
Then there’s Tom Wood, O’Brien’s chief rival to be labelled the Northern Hemisphere’s best flanker.
And they are at home. Franklin’s Gardens is becoming comparable to Welford Road, Marcel Michelin and Thomond Park when it comes to horrendously tough places to go and win. All 13,591 tickets have been sold.
The welcoming mat they usually save for the Leicester Tigers will be rolled out.
It could get nasty. It will certainly be brutal. If Cian Healy, Devin Toner and the other 12 players who featured against New Zealand can rise again to that altitude of controlled ferocity Leinster will prevail.
Anything less and a bonus point will have to do. If there is more than one malfunctioning sector, between lineout, scrum or place-kicking, Northampton will devour them.
NORTHAMPTON SAINTS: J Wilson; K Pisi, D Waldouck, L Burrell, G North; S Myler, L Dickson; A Waller, D Hartley (capt), S Ma’afu; S Manoa, C Lawes; T Wood, P Dowson, S Dickinson. Replacements: M Haywood, E Waller, T Mercey, C Day, C Clark, R Glynn, G Dickson, J Elliott.
LEINSTER: R Kearney; D Kearney, B O’Driscoll, G D’Arcy, L Fitzgerald; I Madigan, E Reddan; C Healy, S Cronin, M Ross; D Toner, M McCarthy; R Ruddock, S O’Brien, J Heaslip (capt). Replacements: A Dundon, J McGrath, M Moore, L Cullen, S Jennings, I Boss, J Gopperth, Z Kirchner.
Referee: Nigel Owens (WRU).
Betting (Paddy Powers): 8/11 Northamtpon, 20/1 Draw, 6/5 Leinster. Handicap odds (Leinster +2pts) 10/11 Northampton, 20/1 10/11 Leinster.
Previous meetings: 21/5/11: Leinster 33 Northampton 22; 27/10/00: Leinster 40 Northampton 31; 21/10/00 : Northampton 8 Leinster 14.
Forecast: Leinster to win.