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Baird to the fore as re-jigged Leinster see off Saints

Leo Cullen’s side notched another bonus point win despite a spate of pre and post kick-off injury issues.

Image: Bryan Keane/INPHO

Leinster 35

Northampton Saints 19

THE PARTS CHANGE all the time, but the Leinster machine keeps whirring away.

It might splutter and chug and groan while the maintenance is under way, that’s to be expected even against a much-changed Northampton. But it takes an elite outfit to pick them apart even when they are patching themselves up on the go.

A starting line-up already re-jigged after Caelan Doris withdrew with a calf issue faced a last-minute disruption after the new school out-half Harry Byrne was put through that old school concept, a pre-match fitness test.

The younger Byrne was last to enter the dressing room after a back issue flared in the warm-up and when the players re-emerged, big brother Ross had swiped the number 10 shirt and Cian Kelleher was among the replacements.

The enforced tweaks didn’t end with the opening whistle either. Jimmy O’Brien and Ringrose were both send for head injury assessments before the match was 15 minutes old. The international centre passed his on the day he returned from a broken jaw. The fullback did not.

And yet there Leinster stand, firmly in control of their destiny in Champions Cup Pool A. This bonus point win did not come as easily as forecasted, but for all the scrappiness and a handful of soft tries conceded, it never truly looked in doubt either.

Despite all the chopping and changing, the clock was just ticking to three and a half minutes when Ross Byrne struck a conversion to fellow late addition Josh Murphy’s try.

To the Saints’ credit, they issued their statement of intent after that worrying early concession, brought about by a scything Ringrose run. They dug in their claws to put up a robust defence when the home side were camped in the northern end of the RDS. But the pressure told, it always tells. Cian Healy forced his way over from close range and so the 2018 champions were cruising at 14-0 despite being down, at that point, four starters from their back eight.

The Saints turned their grim intent into an attacking threat midway through the half, and they made hay while there was uncertainty in the Leinster defence as Fraser Dingwall and Tom James both found gaps on the back of close-range scrums.

ryan-baird-is-tackled-by-sam-matavesi Ryan Baird in attack. Source: Bryan Keane/INPHO

In attack, Leinster still looked fully cohesive when Ryan Baird was putting his explosive physicality to good use on his first European start and the less threatening physique of Ross Byrne broke into the 22 before the interval to help Leinster tighten their grip on the contest.

With a penalty advantage coming, Jamison Gibson-Park threw caution to the wind and the ball very close to the grasp of Ryan Olowofela. The wing wasn’t able to take the ball in though and instead Dave Kearney made the gap 22-14 at half-time.

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Gibson-Park sealed the bonus point with the second half just two minutes old, ghosting under the posts from a scrum 30 metres from the try-line.

It wasn’t a sign for the floodgates to open. Nick Isiekwe earned himself a charge down try to keep the home side honest and, with the try bonus secured, Byrne kept nudging Leinster’s lead upward with two penalties, the second of which came after Tom Wood escaped serious sanction after his shoulder made contact with the head of Josh van der Flier.

The personnel will change again when these sides meet again in mid-January, but Leinster will remain unshakable favourites as they close in on a quarter-final place.

Scorers

Leinster

Tries: J Murphy, C Healy, D Kearney, J Gibson-Park

Conversions: R Byrne (3/4)

Penalties: R Byrne (3/3)

Northampton

Tries: F Dingwall, T James, N Isikiewe

Conversions: R Hutchinson (1/3)

Leinster: Jimmy O’Brien (Cian Kelleger ’9 HIA),  Hugo Keenan,  Garry Ringrose (Ciaran Frawley ’14 HIA, reversed 25. Permanent 75),  Robbie Henshaw,  Dave Kearney,  Ross Byrne, Jamison Gibson-Park (Luke McGrath ’56):  Cian Healy (Peter Dooley ’56), Ronan Kelleher (James Tracy ’56), Andrew Porter (Michael Bent ’56), Ryan Baird, James Ryan, Josh Murphy (Ross Molony ’67), Josh van der Flier,  Rhys Ruddock (Dan Leavy ’61)

Northampton Saints: Northampton Saints: Tom Collins, Ryan Olowofela (Piers Francis ’58), Fraser Dingwall, Rory Hutchinson, Taqele Naiyaravoro (Matt Proctor ’58), 10. George Furbank, Tom James (Henry Taylor ’70): Alex Waller (Francois van Wyk ’47)  Sam Matavesi (Mikey Haywood ’50), Paul Hill (Owen Franks ’58), Alex Moon, Api Ratuniyarawa (Teimana Harrison ’62), 6. Nick Isiekwe (Alex Coles ’65), Tom Wood, Shaun Adendorff

About the author:

Sean Farrell  / Reports from the RDS

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