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Hartley sees red as Leinster's pack send the Saints marching to bonus-point defeat

Leinster secured their extra point after the England captain committed an act of sheer stupidity.

Northampton 10

Leinster 37

Murray Kinsella reports from Franklin’s Gardens

AN ACT OF sheer stupidity proved decisive. We thought Dylan Hartley had reformed himself and changed his ways, but his red card was crucial in deciding a game that had seen the momentum swinging all over the place.

The England captain lasted only six minutes after being introduced from the bench, before his cowardly swinging arm into the back of Sean O’Brien’s exposed head saw him deservedly given his marching orders.

Rory O’Loughlin scores a try Rory O'Loughlin scores Leinster's third try. Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

The absence of Hartley allowed Leinster to secure a try-scoring bonus point that puts them in control of Pool 4 ahead of the return tie with Saints in Dublin next weekend. A lengthy ban surely awaits for Hartley.

Eddie Jones, watching in the stands at Franklin’s Gardens, could only put his head in his hands. Watching on TV, Warren Gatland will have taken note.

That moment of madness aside, it was the Leinster pack who had the most telling say in this entertaining contest in Northampton.

Tadhg Furlong and Jack McGrath were superb in the scrum, demolishing the Saints front row, while Devin Toner ran an excellent lineout and maul performance.

Indeed, all of Leinster’s returning Ireland internationals looked to be carrying huge confidence after their November exploits, with fullback Rob Kearney getting through 43 excellent minutes before departing injured.

The fullback’s exit, coupled with an injury to out-half Joey Carbery after only 16 minutes had threatened to swing the outcome in Northampton’s favour, and they did gain ascendency early in the second half.

But Hartley’s departure saw Leinster finish very strongly, with tries from captain Isa Nacewa, Rory O’Loughlin and Jamison Gibson-Park adding to earlier efforts from Sean O’Brien and Garry Ringrose.

European debuts for Adam Byrne on the right wing, as well as Ross Byrne and O’Loughlin off the bench only added to the sense of satisfaction.

While the Saints will be deeply disappointed at a home humbling, there was at least a bright performance from Irish inside centre JJ Hanrahan, before he too was forced off injured in the second half.

Leinster’s very first attack was ultra-clinical as they stretched the Saints with lightning quick rugby ball and nice variety in their passing game.

Garry Ringrose scores the first try of the game Ringrose scored his first European try. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

The reward came when the outstanding Kearney dummied, fended lock Michael Paterson into the ground and dynamically burst into the Northampton 22 before drawing Ben Foden and feeding Ringrose inside for his first European try.

Nacewa converted and Leinster’s excellent start continued with a Furlong turnover and a sharp outside break by Ringrose off a delightfully flat Carbery pass.

The forwards were dominant in the opening exchanges, with the scrum twice firing up explosively around 30 metres from the Northampton tryline.

First, Jack McGrath munched Alex Waller to force a knock-on at the base from Nic Groom, then the Leinster loosehead and his pack marched the Saints backwards for a penalty that allowed Nacewa to make it 10-0.

However, an ankle injury to Carbery saw him depart in the 16th minute for European debutant Byrne and the momentum shifted towards the Saints.

Nacewa allowed a Hanrahan bomb to bounce, meaning Adam Byrne had to gather under pressure and he turned into trouble to allow Paul Hill to win a turnover penalty that saw Stephen Myler bring the Saints back to 10-3.

Luke McGrath made a sniping break after Kearney forced Wood into knocking-on the Leinster restart, but was turned over within striking range of the Saints’ line.

Some clever grubber kicking allowed Jim Mallinder’s men to gain the territory they had been starved of, with sharp hands from Louis Picamoles then almost resulting in the home team creating a try-scoring chance wide on the left.

Wing Jamie Elliot knocked-on Mikey Haywood’s offload, however, and was injured in the process, with Ahsee Tuala on in his place.

Joey Carbery is treated for an injury Carbery was forced off with an ankle injury. Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

Leinster’s attack did continue to look confident and crisp, with the powerful Robbie Henshaw’s excellent left-handed skip pass and a pirouette and offload from Jack McGrath standing out, but the Saints’ defence made a statement before the break.

The Irish province went through phase after phase on the Northampton tryline after their maul had made big gains again, but the defence got a grip on them and thundered into their hits, led by flanker Tom Wood and Picamoles.

They drove Leinster 15 metres upfield before Henshaw knocked on in contact for a disappointing end to a 22 visit that should really have yielded points.

O’Brien briefly thought he had scored a try just before the break, but the TMO review showed that he had knocked-on after his initial kick in behind the Northampton defence was blocked. The score – having been finished with impressive pace – was chalked off and we went to the break with Leinster leading 10-3.

The momentum had gradually been swinging Northampton’s way and it turned completely with the 43rd-minute departure of Kearney – who was treated for a lower left leg injury in the first half.

O’Loughlin came onto the left wing, with Nacewa moving to fullback. Immediately, Foden fired off a superb long kick to gain field position, before Luke McGrath knocked-on from the back of the subsequent Leinster defensive maul.

Then up stepped Hanrahan. He barrelled through the tackle of Luke McGrath all too easily from the scrum, bursting to within metres of the Leinster line. A phase later, he fired a stunning left-handed pass wide right to Tuala in space for an excellent try, converted from a difficult position by Myler for 10-10.

But Saints captain Wood gave Leinster some respite by going off his feet at the breakdown, allowing Nacewa to fire over an important penalty from 45 metres out.

JJ Hanrahan tackled by Josh van der Flier Hanrahan had a fine game for the Saints. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

A penalty concession from Josh van der Flier then gave the Saints a close-range mauling chance, but their platform was scrapped before hooker Haywood threw a loose offload to lift the pressure on Leinster.

It was to be Haywood’s last action before making way for Hartley, but he was required back on the pitch just six minutes later after the England captain saw red.

In between, Leinster’s pack turned on their muscular magic. After Adam Byrne had knocked-on wide on the right, Jack McGrath and Furlong demolished the Saints front row for a big penalty.

Leinster twice went to touch, drew another penalty and went into the corner. The maul fired, Luke McGrath sniped cleverly and then O’Brien smashed his way through Hanrahan from a metre out, aided by Heaslip’s support.

Nacewa was on target again with his conversion, providing Leinster with a 20-10 lead.

Then came Hartley’s moment of madness. With O’Brien backing into contact and being tackled down low, the England hooker swung his right arm viciously at the Leinster flanker’s exposed head and made heavy contact.

A brief TMO consultation and Garces reached for his red card, with O’Brien departing apparently injured.

That was the game decided, although Leinster weren’t finished yet. A superb cross-field kick from out-half Byrne allowed replacement wing O’Loughlin to climb over the head of Foden and gather to score a brilliant try in the 67th minute.

Jérôme Garcès red card Dylan Hartley Hartley saw red for an act of stupidity. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

Nacewa couldn’t convert, but Leinster went on to secure their bonus point in stunning fashion.

Heaslip made a strip in contact to turn possession over near the halfway line, before Byrne shipped the ball out to the waiting replacement scrum-half Jamison Gibson-Park on the left wing.

The New Zealander showed pace initially, then slalomed his way past Luther Burrell and back inside two further despairing Saints’ tackles for a brilliant score.

Nacewa converted, but Leinster still weren’t done. George Pisi was sin binned and then Leinster captain Nacewa fittingly finished the fifth score for the visitors out on the left, this time failing to add the extra two points.

Nonetheless, Cullen and co. can reflect on a deeply satisfying outcome.

Northampton scorers:

Tries: Ahsee Tuala

Conversions: Stephen Myler [1 from 1]

Penalties: Stephen Myler [1 from 1]

Leinster scorers:

Tries: Garry Ringrose, Sean O’Brien, Rory O’Loughlin, Jamison Gibson-Park, Isa Nacewa

Conversions: Isa Nacewa [3 from 5]

Penalties: Isa Nacewa [2 from 2]

NORTHAMPTON: Ben Foden;  Ken Pisi, Luther Burrell, JJ Hanrahan (George Pisi ’65), Jamie Elliott (Ahsee Tuala ’25); Stephen Myler, Nic Groom (Tom Kessell ’69); Alex Waller (Ethan Waller ’62), Mikey Haywood (Dylan Hartley ’52 (red card ’58)), Paul Hill (Gareth Denman ’66); Michael Paterson (Teimana Harrison ’58), Courtney Lawes; Jamie Gibson, Tom Wood (captain) (Mikey Haywood ’59), Louis Picamoles (Api Ratuniyarawa ’58).

LEINSTER: Rob Kearney (Rory O’Loughlin ’43), Adam Byrne, Garry Ringrose, Robbie Henshaw, Isa Nacewa (captain); Joey Carbery (Ross Byrne ’16), Luke McGrath (Jamison Gibson-Park ’67); Jack McGrath (Cian Healy ’59), Sean Cronin (James Tracy ’59), Tadhg Furlong (Michael Bent ’65); Devin Toner, Hayden Triggs (Rhys Ruddock ’52); Sean O’Brien (Jack Conan ’58), Josh van der Flier, Jamie Heaslip.

Referee: Jerome Garces [FFR].

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About the author:

Murray Kinsella

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