THERE WAS A complete reversal of roles in Dublin this evening as Leinster were deservedly beaten 18-9 by the Northampton Saints.
The brutal physicality and incisive accuracy Matt O’Connor’s men brought to Franklin’s Gardens last weekend were absent in their play, with the Saints instead dominating the collisions and taking their chances.
The final passage served as a microcosm of the game; the Saints battered the home side’s ball-carriers, Leinster lost possession through sloppy handling and Jamie Elliot took the chance presented to him. O’Connor admitted that the precision Leinster demonstrated last time out was sorely missing.
We were inaccurate. We didn’t look after the ball as we as we would have liked. We certainly didn’t look after it as well as we did last week and that let Northampton into the game. They went out in front and, to be fair, they played the upper hand quite well. They kicked the ball into the corner and drove.
“That made it hard for us to get any field position in the game, and off the back of our indiscipline and penalty count they got opportunities to do that. That was our fault, because we didn’t control possession, didn’t get field position and we didn’t put them under enough pressure.”
O’Connor claimed that he was proud of Leinster’s late efforts following Kahn Fotuali’i's 79th minute drop-goal, stressing that his men “were playing to win the game.” It would have been a theft of a victory though, as the Saints were the better team throughout.
Sean Cronin displays the disappointment of a defeat in Dublin. ©INPHO/Ryan Byrne.
Understanding how Leinster could go from such heights last weekend to such sloppiness this evening is difficult, but O’Connor insists that last weekend’s final scoreline didn’t tell a well-rounded story.
“I said last week that the margins were pretty small. We took our chances last week, Northampton didn’t create and take their chances. As a result, we got away with it but we knew what we were going to have to deal with this week.
They were always going to be very committed, they were playing for pride for a large part. We understood that and talked about that a lot during the week. There wasn’t a complacent edge to us; I think we were just inaccurate off the back of their commitment.”
A home defeat complicates matters for Leinster, but the truth is that they remain four points clear of Castres atop Pool 1. With two fixtures left – both in January – there is still a chance that O’Connor’s men will advance to the knock-out stages with a home quarter-final in the bag.
The Australian coach is staying positive and says this evening’s defeat alters little.
“We’ve got two really tough games, one against Castres away and then we’ve got the Ospreys at home. You’ve got to win those two games. Those would be games that we looked at at the start of the group and said that we had to win, so it hasn’t changed dramatically.
“We’ve just got to make sure that we are at the very top end of the game whenever we play.”
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