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Leinster Rugby vs Northampton Saints
Heineken Champions Cup Pool 1
Aviva Stadium, Dublin
Saturday, 14th December 2019, 17:15

TV: Live on Virgin 1, Channel 4, BT Sports

Sorry RDS, but can we play in Franklin's Gardens every week?

Leinster's average score on their last three visits is now 40 points even. In fairness to the Saints, the game was far more competitive than the score suggested. It was actually touch and go at half-time with Leinster only leading by three points despite scoring three tries to one. The first half had actually been a wonderfully entertaining game of rugby but it was possibly a little too loose from Leinster at times.

In the second half Leinster used their power to overwhelm Northampton. They scored a brace of tries at the beginning of the half, then defended for thirty minutes and then scored another brace at the end to win the second half 24-0. Northampton put it up to Leinster in the first half but hadn't the fitness to stay with them, which their coach Chris Boyd admitted afterwards. Boyd is a clever coach though and he'll have spent the week coming up with a plan to unsettle Leinster.

Of course the cautionary tale for Leinster is from six years ago when they won 40-7 away only to lose 18-9 at home the week after. That loss cost them a home quarter-final and they lost that in Toulon. Three years later they won 37-10 in the gardens but the Saints sent over a shadow side a week later that was trounced 60-13. That Northampton team's qualification chances were all but gone though and they had given up the ghost. However this Northampton team will still fancy their chances of beating Lyon and Benetton in the last two games even if they get nothing on Saturday. So they'll effectively have a free hit out under no pressure as no one will be expecting anything from them anyway.

Boyd has made eight changes to the side from last week. The highly-rated England international Lewis Ludlam comes into the backrow at number eight alongside Tom Wood, who takes over as captain and Jamie Gibson. There's an all-new front row in Francois van Wyk, Michael van Vuuren and Paul Hill and Alex Coles comes into the second row alongside Fiji international Api Ratuniyarawa.

Dan Biggar remains at out-half but is partnered this week by Connor Tupai, who replaces the injured Cobus Reinach. Andrew Symons comes into midfield to partner Matt Proctor and the final change sees wing Ollie Sleightholme join Taqele Naiyaravoro and Ahsee Tuala in the back three.

Of course the only downside from last week was skipper Johnny Sexton's knee injury. But Leinster are growing increasingly less dependent on Sexton and they didn't miss a beat when the in-form Ross Byrne came in last week. Byrne takes Sexton's number ten jersey and joins Luke McGrath who's recalled to the team in place of Jamison Gibson-Park. Jordan Larmour, who was dazzling at fifteen last week, retains his place so Rob Kearney has to make do with a place on the bench.

Leo Cullen has rotated again in the pack with Tadhg Furlong and Scott Fardy coming into the front five in place of Andrew Porter and Devin Toner. Fardy also takes over the captaincy from Sexton. Ronan Kelleher misses out due to an injured hand so James Tracy comes in at hooker. Ciaran Frawley is the replacement out-half and will make his European debut if he takes the field.

The Saints have made more changes than we may have expected which may indicate they're focusing more on their Christmas run of Premiership games. But it's still a decent team with many of their top players so Leinster need to remain professional and put in another solid performance to get the win.

Team Lineups

Leinster Rugby
Northampton Saints
Teams Jordan Larmour 15 Ahsee Tuala
Dave Kearney 14 Ollie Sleightholme
Garry Ringrose 13 Matt Proctor
Robbie Henshaw 12 Andrew Symons
James Lowe 11 Taqele Naiyaravoro
Ross Byrne 10 Dan Biggar
Luke McGrath 9 Connor Tupai

Cian Healy 1 Francois van Wyk
James Tracy 2 Michael van Vuuren
Tadhg Furlong 3 Paul Hill
Scott Fardy (C)
4 Api Ratuniyarawa
James Ryan 5 Alex Coles
Rhys Ruddock 6 Tom Wood (C)
Josh van der Flier 7 Jamie Gibson
Caelan Doris 8 Lewis Ludlam

Replacements Bryan Byrne 16 Sam Matavesi
Ed Byrne 17 Alex Waller
Andrew Porter 18 Ehren Painter
Devin Toner 19 Lewis Bean
Max Deegan 20 JJ Tonks
Jamison Gibson-Park 21 James Mitchell
Ciaran Frawley 22 James Grayson
Rob Kearney 23 Fraser Dingwall

Not Considered
due to Injury
Dan Leavy,
Barry Daly,
Jack Conan,
Sean Cronin,
Vakh Abdaladze,
Rory O'Loughlin,
Ronan Kelleher,
Johnny Sexton

Alex Mitchell,
Reece Marshall,
Reuben Bird-Tulloch,
Henry Taylor,
Ben Franks,
David Ribbans,
James Fish,
Owen Franks,
Courtney Lawes,
Alex Moon
Cobus Reinach
Officials Referee: Dan Jones (WRU),
Assistant referees: Adam Jones (WRU), Dewi Phillips (WRU),
TMO: Sean Brickell (WRU)

by Jim O'Connor, © 2020-01-03

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