Anyone who had not seen Northampton’s humbling 40-7 defeat by Leinster at Franklin’s Gardens coming may have forgotten the Saints’ series of home losses to Saracens, Ulster, Harlequins, Gloucester and Leicester last season. Or Leinster’s many wondrous performances in the Heineken Cup – three-time winners since 2009, even if last season they dropped a level to winning the Amlin Challenge Cup. The boys in blue did to Northampton on Saturday what they did to them in the famous second half of the 2011 Heineken final.
Sometimes buried among the arguments about how the Heineken should be reorganised is the fear in Leinster that their next generation may not be as good as this one. Well, Jack McGrath looks a top prop in the making. And though the rugby genius Brian O’Driscoll is 34 and in his last season, Rhys Ruddock and Ian Madigan are the right side of 25 and worth hanging a hat on.
Leinster preyed like pack wolves on two early misjudgements by Ken Pisi and attacked with an accuracy and pace no team, including Northampton, can have shown at the Gardens for many a long day.
Northampton were missing their England prop Alex Corbisiero and full-back Ben Foden, whose appearances for a half-time chat on the pitch on crutches after knee surgery and with a knee in a brace respectively rubbed salt into the home crowd’s wounds. Leinster were 26-0 ahead by that stage and had a bonus point by the 37th minute. They got started with O’Driscoll’s grubber through the defence, chased on to by Luke Fitzgerald to score the first of his three tries. O’Driscoll’s pass through the legs – audacious, confident, brilliant – helped make Fitzgerald’s second after seven minutes. Jamie Heaslip and Eoin Reddan finished at the gallop, Rob Kearney ruled the air, Fitzgerald and everyone else wreaked havoc on the floor after the tackle, the scrum and line-out yielded no more than fitful succour to Northampton – and so on.
If it was déjà vu for Northampton after Ulster’s 25-6 Heineken pool win last season, there is some hope. Saints won the return a week later and they must do the same again in Dublin on Saturday or face a third successive pool exit.
“We’d like to salvage some pride; it’s not beyond us,” said Tom Wood, Northampton’s England flanker. “They may think they’ve got this won, and maybe complacency will creep in, though we can’t rely on that.”