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Three keys battles for Leinster to win against Northampton

Attacking fullbacks, physical blindsides and contrasting No. 8s; here are the vital match-ups.

Kearney is evidently buzzing with confidence on the pitch.
Kearney is evidently buzzing with confidence on the pitch.
Image: ©INPHO/Andrew Fosker

LEINSTER FANS WILL be hoping for a repeat of the brilliance of last weekend’s 40-7 win over Northampton when the sides face off in Dublin tomorrow.

However, with their pride wounded, the Saints will be far more aggressive in this Pool 1 encounter and are likely to make a better game of this one. Matt O’Connor’s Leinster team will still fancy their chances of making it four wins from four Heineken Cup games this season.

Here are three key battles for them to dominate in order to secure victory.

Rob Kearney v Ken Pisi

The Ireland fullback is in scintillating form at the moment and that looks to be down to unprecedented motivational levels. We’ve never seen Kearney so pumped up for games as over the last month, and the effect has been wonderful. His running and passing have been incisive, while his fielding skills are as impressive as ever.

Our statistics back up last weekend’s impression that Pisi isn’t a fullback. Tomorrow will be just his third senior start in the 15 jersey, after the fiasco in Franklin’s Gardens and one appearance there for North Harbour in 2010. His positional play will need to be a lot more intelligent if he is not to be exposed by Leinster again.

Rhys Ruddock v Calum Clark

Northampton were sorely lacking in physicality last weekend, and one of Jim Mallinder’s solutions has been to bring Clark into his starting line-up. The 24-year-old has had some shocking incidents of violent behaviour on the pitch in the past, but there is little doubt the 112kg flanker will provide more power for the Saints.

imageRuddock was in superb form last weekend. ©INPHO/Billy Stickland.

Directly opposite Clark is Leinster’s own powerhouse blindside. Ruddock has always been a fine specimen, but he is truly beginning to turn his athletic gifts into strong performances this season. Last weekend, the 23-year-old’s aggression in contact was vital and O’Connor will be looking for something similar tomorrow.

Jamie Heaslip v Samu Manoa

The Ireland No. 8 delivered another typically busy display for Leinster in the 40-7 victory in Northampton, highlighting how crucial it is for the IRFU to tie him down to a new deal. It was good to see Heaslip’s selfless touchline-hugging rewarded with a try in the first half, while his work in the tight was as effective as ever.

Sam Dickinson was very quiet against Leinster last weekend, but the introduction of Christian Day to the second row means Samu Manoa moves back to No. 8 this week. The beastly American will be keen to get his hands on the ball far more frequently from the back row and Leinster will need to halt his surging runs with chop tackles around the ankles.

Leinster: Rob Kearney; Dave Kearney, Brian O’Driscoll, Gordon D’Arcy, Luke Fitzgerald; Ian Madigan, Eoin Reddan; Jack McGrath, Sean Cronin, Mike Ross; Devin Toner, Mike McCarthy; Rhys Ruddock, Sean O’Brien, Jamie Heaslip (capt.).

Replacements: Aaron Dundon, Michael Bent, Martin Moore, Leo Cullen, Shane Jennings, John Cooney, Jimmy Gopperth, Zane Kirchner.

Northampton: Ken Pisi; Jamie Elliott, Dom Waldouck, Luther Burrell, George North; Steve Myler, Lee Dickson; Alex Waller, Dylan Hartley (capt.), Salesi Ma’afu, Courtney Lawes, Christian Day, Calum Clark, Tom Wood, Samu Manoa.

Replacements: Mikey Haywood, Ethan Waller, Tom Mercey, Sam Dickinson, Phil Dowson, Kahn Fotuali’i, Glenn Dickson, Tom Collins.

Like rugby? Follow TheScore.ie’s dedicated Twitter account @rugby_ie >

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Murray Kinsella

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