Leinster not assuming it will be the same against Northampton
Seán Cronin wary of Saints marching to Dublin on a pride salvaging operation
Leinster’s Seán Cronin is tackled by Jamie Gibson of Northampton during the Champions Cup game at Franklin’s Gardens last Friday. Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho.
If forewarned is forearmed then Leinster are primed to repel the Northampton Saints when they march to the Aviva stadium on Saturday. The tutorial comes from recent history.
Three seasons ago, the Irish province thumped the Saints 40-7 at Franklin’s Gardens only to be humbled 18-9 a week later in Dublin. In the 2012/’13 season, Ulster suffered a similar fate, beating Northampton 25-6 on English turf, only to be shafted 10-9 the following weekend in Belfast.
Leinster players and management recite that unhappy chapter by rote and, in doing so, hope to ward off any mental or physical laxity ahead of Saturday’s game. The bonus-point victory at Franklin’s Gardens last Friday night is now a footnote as they turn to a fresh page this week.
Leinster’s mindset is understandable. They won as they pleased following the sending off of Dylan Hartley but know that the Saints will arrive in Dublin bolstered by the return of players like ex-Ireland underage international Kieran Brookes and Calum Clark and determined to salvage some pride. Desperate men are capable of rising above the norm.
One area in which Leinster thrived was the scrum, forcing a handful of penalties in exerting dominance.
Seán Cronin was at the epicentre.
“It was a big focus for us and what is helping us massively is the level of training we are getting,” he said.
“It’s quite similar to Irish camp, where you are in there with two and even three quality frontrows, [who are] going at it. It’s really helped us in any match that we are up to that intensity straight away.”
Cronin laughs when asked if there’s any chat between a scrum in the ascendancy and the one from whom prayer might be the only solution: on a retreat so to speak.
“I wouldn’t say we would be smiling at each other. It was just a bad day at the office for them. They will devise a plan and have a few players back in the mix.
“(Kieran) Brookes is a quality player and Calum Clark is a big scrumming backrow so we are not going to get too carried away with ourselves. We’re probably lucky it happened a few years ago: we had a big result in Franklin’s Gardens, then they came over here, and bossed us, embarrassed us a bit.
“We ended up with an away quarter-final at the end of the group stages. It’s a big focus for us this week to keep driving that. They’re a big club with a huge pedigree in the competition, and they’re going to be hurting and hurting bad, so we have to be ready for Saturday.”
Hartley’s sending off was a focus for many of the post-match headlines. The England captain is likely to increase his tally on 54 weeks, combined total, in suspensions so far in his career. Fellow hooker Cronin hasn’t experienced that volatility first hand. “I always thought he (Hartley) was pretty calm and level-headed.
“When he came on that time we managed to get two scrum penalties and I don’t know whether that fired him up a small bit. It was obviously rash what he did, stupid, and he’ll have to deal with it this week, whatever happens.
“He’s a class player. You could see how well they had done over in Australia and in the autumn series so I’d say there’s no one kicking themselves more than he is this week.
“I presume he’s going to get a ban, but Mike Haywood’s a top-quality hooker and it could galvanise them as well. Keith Earls got sent off and it galvanised them (Munster), they came back [against the Glasgow Warriors] and had a great win. Montpellier had their tighthead sent off [on Sunday], [yet] ended up getting a bonus point against Castres.”
Leinster conceded just four penalties at Franklin’s Gardens, something that they have been addressing as a priority from a collective sense.
Cronin explained: “It’s been driven by experienced players.
“We’ve got Isa (Nacewa) working with the backs and Jamie (Heaslip) with the forwards. They’re just driving the discipline. Even when we had the flashpoint on the weekend, it was focus on the next job.
“It was going to be our penalty, [so it was] about the lineout, about the process, about what we’re going to run after that. When you’ve got key guys like that getting you refocused it helps.
“It is always a good thing when you can see that the ref is honed in on them being ill-disciplined and when you can see it working for you. It’s going to benefit you if you can stay on the right side of him.”
Same again, all round, on Saturday.