Leinster lay down marker with stunning win

Northampton blown away at Franklin’s Gardens by three-time European champions

Leinster 40 Northampton Saints 7: Turns out the sum of Northampton's parts is nowhere near the plain Leinster exist upon. By the 37th minute this game was over as a contest.

Done and dusted with five points guaranteed as Northampton equalled their worst ever margin of defeat in Europe. The last time they were humiliated to the tune of 33 points was against Clermont in the 2001/02 season.

It was far too easy for the Challenge Cup and Pro 12 champions to escape with a bonus point.

What was so strange about the hosts was they didn't even start a fight. Nothing from Dylan Hartley or Courtney Lawes. So unlike them.


Not even George North could do much, despite one impressive turnover on Dave Kearney, in a truly abysmal showing in front of a bewildered 13,475 full house.

Those who watch Leinster on a regular basis will have seen these patterns develop many times. The forwards, bursting full of energy - with Rhys Ruddock superb yet again, dragged the Saints defence to one side of the pitch before exposing them with the rapidity in which they transfer the ball back across the field.

Some Brian O'Driscoll magic helped Luke Fitzgerald dart in for two tries after just seven minutes.

Those early scores were built, and not without a dose of irony, on the Leinster scrum obliterating Northampton’s famed eight.

It should be noted that Alex Corbisero is going to miss the Six Nations with injury and Salesi Ma'afu was a late withdrawal from Jim Mallinder's front row.

It all started with Ian Madigan slightly overcooking a Garryowen, easily gathered by Ken Pisi. The fullback tapped and knocked on to gift Leinster a scrum wide right near the Saints 22.

Jamie Heaslip picked and brought Dave Kearney, running latterly, in off his wing. When O'Driscoll got it he poked a delicious grubber down Jamie Elliott's throat. Rob Kearney was all over him and possession bounced into Fitzgerald's hand as he dived over in the left corner.

Madigan landed the conversion.

The crowd were rooted to their seats moments later when O'Driscoll confirmed the patent Andre Agassi once had on the through the legs, reverse flick is now his alone. The stylish pass allowed Kearney put Fitzgerald away.

Madigan missed the conversion and a penalty moments later but regained his composure to land two conversions before the interval.

It was around this period that one of the more disgraceful scenes was witnessed at a sporting event. Three Northampton supporters were allowed confront Leinster coach Matt O’Connor, seemingly irate about his colourful language while doing his job, which is to relay message to his players.

Most ridiculously of all, one of the supporters headed off to make a formal complaint.

Northampton did get a foothold in Leinster territory midway through the half but some great turnover work lifted the siege.

Then there was even the sight of Sean O’Brien riding one of those heavy torpedo-tackles from Courtney Lawes.

O’Brien broke the line soon after, with some deft handling by Madigan allowing Heaslip to trot over. The captain had the good sense to give his outhalf a better angle for the conversion.

The job was complete four minutes before half-time when Eoin Reddan slipped unnoticed through a gap, criminally around the edge of the ruck, before stepping Elliott for a try that muted the Saturday night atmosphere (the loudest song of the night was Molly Malone after 50 minutes).

The only downside to that opening 40 minutes was the loss of a bloodied O'Brien. Cian Healy had already been a late withdrawal having suffering a tight quad in training this week.

Seán Cronin was next to break the line, sprinting outside Hartley's clutches, but Nigel Owens denied Fitzgerald's hat-trick by deeming the last pass, correctly, to be forward.

Owens, in vogue as being “the best referee in the world,” does like to officiate using the letter of the law.

Blowing Rob Kearney for getting up and playing on after Ken Pisi tackled him was such an example.

Unlike, say Christchurch or a fortnight ago, none of tonight’s decisions impacted on the result.

It was never in doubt.

The fifth try is what tends to happen when a team starts running from deep against the O’Driscoll midfield defence. They get picked off for an intercept try.

Bowled over by the mammoth Samu Manoa before O'Connor gave him the last 10 minutes off, he disagreed with Stuart Barnes naming him man of the match.

“I find that amusing when I saw performances like Luke Fitzgerald,” said O’Driscoll. “I thought he was outstanding, not just the three tries, but I thought the energy was fantastic, from so many players.

“I had fun today but I am yet to finish a game this year,” he added, still demanding more from a body that turns 35 in January.

Lee Dickson did squeeze over to ensure the Saints avoided being nil-ed but Leinster immediately responded with Zane Kirchner's offload finally gifting Fitzgerald his hat-trick.

Last year Ulster won well at Franklin’s Gardens. A week later the Saints battled out a 10-9 victory in Ravenhill.

For the reputation of English club rugby, they certainly need produce do something in Saturday’s return leg at the Aviva stadium.

Scoring sequence - 2 mins: L Fitzgerald try, 5-0; I Madigan conv, 7-0; 7 mins: L Fitzgerald try, 12-0; 26 mins: J Heaslip try, 17-0; I Madigan conv, 19-0; 36 mins: E Reddan try, 24-0; I Madigan conv, 26-0. Half-time. 62 mins: B O'Driscoll try, 31-0; I Madigan conv, 33-0; 67 mins: 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 mins)

Referee: N Owens (Wales).

Gavin Cummiskey

Gavin Cummiskey

Gavin Cummiskey is The Irish Times' Soccer Correspondent