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Sexton injured, Larmour lights it up as Leinster thrash Saints

Seven different try-scorers crossed for Leinster as they brought their winning streak to 10 this season.

Image: James Crombie/INPHO

Northampton Saints 16

Leinster 43

WHAT A DAY to go 10 from 10. And lose your 10 to injury along the way.

Jonathan Sexton’s early departure due to injury is one of the few black marks against Leinster as they laid down another big statement performance against the pace-setters of the Premiership.

The visitors at Franklin’s Gardens laid to rest any anxiety of World Cup hangovers that had been attached to their relatively stodgy wins in the opening two rounds with some exhilarating flashes of attacking rugby.

The spark for all that blue touchpaper came through Jordan Larmour, whose footwork, ability to exploit gaps and clinically time his pass in open field was dazzling at times.

The 22-year-old played a big part in creating first-half tries for James Lowe and Rhys Ruddock. And although the home side were still well in touch at the halfway point, Leinster were in ruthless mood as they scorched from a 16-19 to 16-31 lead and the bonus point in the space of nine second-half minutes.

A performance that only underlines Leinster’s credentials as tournament favourites brings them five points clear of Northampton before the reverse fixture at the Aviva Stadium next weekend. Both sides started the weekend with nine points to their name in the pool and, with just a single loss between them all season before kick-off, there was plenty to whet the appetite. The satisfying feast of incisive attack arrived without delay.

For an away fixture in a tight old ground against in-form, Premiership-leading opposition the selection of Larmour over the vast experience of Rob Kearney was a big call from Leo Cullen and Stuart Lancaster. The young tyro repaid the faith within three minutes of kick-off by creating a brilliant breakaway try.

What began as a nervy moment for the visitors with Jamison Gibson-Park fumbling a grubber in behind was turned back on the Saints by Cobus Reinach’s loose pass on the edge of the 22. Garry Ringrose pounced and invited Larmour on. The fullback duly moved through two defenders and the gears as he hared off towards the Barwell Stand and popped a well-timed pass for James Lowe to finish.

Each time the Saints felt themselves on the back foot, they tightened up their gait and upped the power in close contact. Ahsee Tuala made a muscular carry into the Leinster 22 in the seventh minute. From that base the Saints – thankfully not as flat as their choir at the interval – expertly drew the blue jerseys in and fan away back left for Tuala himself to finish in the corner.

Dan Biggar, given a new lease of life in Chris Boyd’s energetic attacking setup, added a tough conversion and would have 11 points to his name by half-time as Cullen’s side continually felt the wrath of referee Alexandre Ruiz’ whistle under pressure from the home side.

The ideal valve to ease that pressure, however, was Larmour. Minutes after the visitors enjoyed a let-off with Tom Collins’ knock-on as the try-line begged to be crossed, the 22-year-old was unleashing another magical sidestep in midfield to crack Northampton’s defence again.

Gibson-Park was dragged down shy of the line on the break thanks to Reinach’s supreme and desperate swan-dive tackle, but the score was merely delayed as the blue pack arrived to recycle efficiently to tee up Rhys Ruddock.

A game with a terrific frenetic pace saw Leinster’s 10-14 advantage kicked away to a 16-14 deficit by Biggar. But Leinster in European mode are not a dog to ease off once they have a scent. If the backs were to be lauded for the opening two tries, it was the pack’s turn to tilt the tie as they forced a vital 34th-minute scrum penalty on Saints’ put-in.

They sought out the corner and, with Devin Toner in irresistible form in the air, they set the line-out, maul and the big bodies kept shoulders at the wheel until Andrew Porter forced the try.

Sexton missed the conversion to leave the scoreboard at 16-19 leading into the second half, but that would soon the be the least of his worries as he was aided off the field three minutes into the second half.

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jonathan-sexton-is-seen-to-by-the-medical-staff Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

The playmaker suffered the apparent knee injury just as Larmour scythed through on another break. The 14 men mounted an extended set of tight phases while their playmaker was receiving treatment. By the time the medics helped Sexton off the field, Cian Healy forces his way over to seal the bonus point.

Ross Byrne’s first act on the pitch was to kick the conversion and he had seven points to his name before he had five minutes on the field. The out-half rounded off Leinster’s fifth try, a score that came thanks to another incisive midfield break – this time from Gibson-Park.

Prop Alex Waller was sin-binned for his attempts to kill the move and it was soon a 14-on-14 as Ringrose was given just a yellow for reflexive, dangerous tip tackle.

With a 15-point cushion, Cullen’s men didn’t have the urgency that made the first period such an entertaining watch. And as the defence stood firm against a long, slow bout of pressure from the home pack, the win was not in doubt from there on out.

Indeed, once Leinster navigated their way back into attacking territory they grabbed two late tries through Luke McGrath and Ed Byrne.

A strong finish to a perfect start to the season that now reads 10 wins from 10.

Scorers

Northampton Saints

Tries: A Tuala
Conversions: D Biggar (1/1)
Penalties: D Biggar (3/3)

Leinster

Tries: J Lowe, R Ruddock, A Porter, C Healy, R Byrne, L McGrath, E Byrne
Conversions: J Sexton (2/3) R Byrne (1/3)

Northampton Saints: Ahsee Tuala (Piers Francis ’57), Tom Collins, Matt Proctor, Rory Hutchinson, Taqele Naiyaravoro; Dan Biggar (James Grayson ’62), Cobus Reinach (Connor Tupai ’65): Alex Waller (Francois van Wyk ’57), Mikey Haywood (Michael van Vuuren ’58), Ehren Painter (Paul Hill ’50); Alex Moon, Api Ratuniyarawa; Tom Wood (Lewis Ludlam ’50), Jamie Gibson (Alex Coles ’62), Teimana Harrison.

Leinster: Jordan Larmour, Dave Kearney, Garry Ringrose, Robbie Henshaw (Rob Kearney ’74), James Lowe; Johnny Sexton (Ross Byrne ’43), Jamison Gibson-Park (Luke McGrath ’53); Cian Healy (Ed Byrne ’53), Rónan Kelleher (James Tracy ’53), Andrew Porter (Tadhg Furlong ’53); Devin Toner, James Ryan (Max Deegan ’75); Rhys Ruddock (Scott Fardy ’55), Josh van der Flier, Caelan Doris.

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About the author:

Sean Farrell  / Reports from Franklin's Gardens

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