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Very silly Saints talk of Leinster revenge and back-to-back wins - Shane Byrne

The former Leinster and Ireland hooker is confident the three-time champions can win at Franklin’s Gardens.

Leinster's Shane Jennings and Aaron Dundon tackle George North of Northampton Saints.
Leinster's Shane Jennings and Aaron Dundon tackle George North of Northampton Saints.
Image: INPHO/Cathal Noonan

NOT FOR THE first time during an international window, Leinster went about their business quietly and efficiently. They won three games in November but suddenly find their hands full against a Northampton team still talking about revenge.

Leinster’s comeback win over Saints in the 2011 Heineken Cup final still lingers but it is very silly of them to talk not only of winning to recording back-to-back victories. They are in good form and have seven wins in a row. Leinster have won their last six but are not boasting about it.

Nonetheless, saints are a serious outfit with a strong back, good front and back-row units and the running tank, George North, out on the wing. They will have to contain him as best they can and I see Matt O’Connor has shifted Dave Kearney to the right wing in place of the injured Fergus McFadden. Kearney had a fine game against New Zealand and didn’t miss a tackle.

Another player I was impressed with against the All Blacks was Luke Fitzgerald. He did well when he came on; his physicality was impressive. He deserves his start on the left wing but there are eyebrow raisers in the Leinster XV. Ian Madigan — and Joe Schmidt — will be delighted with his start at out-half. He has hardly put a foot wrong in his last year and a half with Leinster but his selection is hard on Jimmy Gopperth.

imageIan Madigan gets a pass away against Scarlets. INPHO/Ryan Byrne

There was some talk, with Kevin McLaughlin out injured, that Sean O’Brien might come in at blindside but Rhys Ruddock has led from the front in recent weeks. He has made three Heineken Cup starts in his five seasons with Leinster but has bided his time and will be eager to hold down that slot.

Each week we talk about the importance of the breakdown and the back-row battles but this could be the winning and losing of the game for Leinster. Tom wood and Sam Dickinson and Tom Wood are serious operators. Eoin Reddan did not have a November Series to remember but if he can get good ball from his forwards, his superior distribution skills should come to the fore.

Brian O’Driscoll’s inclusion in the backline is important. He is the attacking fulcrum for so many of his team’s best moves. The other aspect that may tip it in Leinster’s favour is their bench. You have experienced internationals like Leo Cullen, Shane Jennings and Isaac Boss ready to join the fray, Gopperth and Zane Kirchner to freshen up the backline and front row replacements — Jack McGrath, Aaron Dundon and Martin Moore — who could comfortably start and do well.

I believe Northampton are making a mistake in bigging themselves up but that’s English sides for you. The stats would back up their claims to be favourites at home, however, and Leinster will need to be in top form to return to Ireland with the win.

*Shane Byrne’s publication, Club Rugby Magazine is available monthly in the Irish Independent. You can also follow Shane on Twitter  @shanebyrneoffic

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About the author:

Shane Byrne  / Former Irish international

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