James Crombie/INPHO
# true blues
Cullen reaches for cold water as Leinster hit 'Test-match level'
Northampton boss Chris Boyd was at a loss to signal a way of reversing his side’s fortunes against ‘another level of physicality and fitness’.

NORTHAMPTON SAINTS BOSS Chris Boyd is a straight-talking sort.

We’ll get to his feelings on the speculation linking his club to Ben Youngs in time, but during his frank summation of the seven-try stuffing at the hands of Leinster his honesty continuously shone through. Almost to a fault.

The scoreboard outside read 16-43. Inside, the former Hurricanes boss was asked if his side might someday reach the levels of vicious efficiency hit by Leinster.

His answer came after a long pause and a withering look that said ‘no chance’.

“We have to be optimistic that we can,” said Boyd before understandably reaching for the big names that were unavailable to him this weekend and will remain absent for the return in the Aviva Stadium this Saturday. And names don’t come a whole lot bigger than Owen Franks and Courtney Lawes.

No. Northampton Saints may be riding high at the top of the Premiership, but a brush with Leinster proved to be an overly-harsh reality check of their standing in continental terms. Perhaps it was an intentional grab for the underdog tag ahead of the return leg, but there was more than a hint of awe in the way Boyd spoke of Leinster.

“That’s part of the education. There are not that many sides in the Premiership who can step up like that. We were sort of in the game at half time, but I got the feeling when we were in the sheds that they had more petrol in the tank than we did.”

leinsters-jonathan-sexton-talks-to-the-team-in-a-huddle-after-the-match Billy Stickland / INPHO Billy Stickland / INPHO / INPHO

Pre-match, Boyd had quipped that the best players from Irish provinces were not required to play regularly in the Pro14. Is that why, before Leinster ran out from a 16-19 half-time lead to a 16-43 trouncing, he suspected the fatigue would take his side first?

“Well, I wasn’t privy to their changing room but I looked at our guys at half-time and it looked like a bit of juice was taken out of their legs. You can just tell when guys are still fresh from 40 minutes or they have been under the pump.

 “We didn’t create enough and our decision-making meant we got punished at the back end of the game.”

There are only three or four or five sides that can genuinely take their game to near-Test match level. Leinster are certainly one of them.”

“It’s a learning for us that there is another level of physicality and fitness required if we are going to compete at any stage with teams like Leinster.”

While Boyd’s words were plotted on a collision course at some hard truths, Leo Cullen was intent on treating sport’s two imposters just the same. Acutely aware that his side had to beat Saints all over again next weekend.

“Overall, obviously the outcome is good for us,” began Cullen with an outrageously coy summation of a seven-try win away to the Premiership leaders.

Though he waxed lyrically on the remarkable spectacle of the thrilling first half, the head coach lingered on the few negatives, work-ons if you will, of the resounding bonus-point win. Boyd’s brilliant attack made inroads through midfield and let a few tries go untaken. Particularly the right-hand-side knock-on from Tom Collins when the try-line was begging and the game was in the balance in the first half.

“We looked stretched there at different stages of the first half, even the second half Northampton had a couple of times when they just don’t nail that final pass. Lots for us to improve on next week. I think it’s important we have that mindset,” said Cullen.

“I think that was the big difference, that we were able to convert the chances we did create. Whereas Northampton had a lot of possession at our end weren’t able to convert. So that’s something to keep in mind for next week.”

ross-byrne-scores-his-sides-fifth-try James Crombie / INPHO James Crombie / INPHO / INPHO

Cullen doesn’t need reminding that clinical attack is no guarantee from week to week. He demanded improved efficiency from his side in possession last week after the front-liners had laboured through hard-won opening European rounds. The players delivered in spades.

“Leading up to the game we talked about not taking some chances that had been there for us in games. Even in the first half we pushed things a little bit, but we tightened up a lot more in the second half, much better ball control. Two good tries early in the second half and two good tries at the end. That’s definitely the most pleasing piece.

It was a brilliant game. I really thought it was a brilliant (first) half of rugby. Both teams going out with proper attacking intent, looking to penetrate the defences. We were stretched on occasions. Northampton were a bit unlucky with that kick in behind us (Tom Collins’ knock-on).

“After we scored the two tries in the second half they stretched us again, but I think it’s a great advert for the tournament, for the game in general. Two teams going out full at it. Hopefully we’ll have something similar next week.”

Leinster players and staff constantly refer to the competition for places as the basis for their imperious form through the opening 10 games of the season. Jonathan Sexton’s knee injury will likely see Ross Byrne start the return leg with his younger brother or Ciaran Frawley deputising.

The Saints won’t lean towards wholesale change in the immediate term. And, in the medium term, Boyd made sure to give an unequivocal stance on speculation that the Saints were in the mix to sign an England international scrum-half from Leicester.

“I can tell you in the criteria of recruitment for us, Ben Youngs only fulfills one criteria, but that he is English,” Boyd said, taking the spirit level out to underline his straight answers and lean a blowtorch towards the newspaper bearing the Youngs link.

“I’ve never spoken to Ben Youngs in my life. We have absolutely no interest in Ben Youngs at Northampton Saints. Is that reasonably clear?”

“We are looking for young guys with potential. Ben Youngs has been wonderful for Leicester and for England. I’ve no interest in recruiting a 30-year-old  from another club in England. 

“You can put that one to bed. It’s probably his agent looking for another 100K.”

Hurtful truths. Boyd could be forgiven for feeling the need to deflect a few.

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