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Northampton Saints vs Leinster Rugby
Heineken Champions Cup Pool 1
Franklin's Gardens, Northampton
Saturday, 7th December 2019, 13:00

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

Last week's win in Glasgow was one of the most satisfying in years.

The Leinster team selected were up against it facing a much stronger looking Glasgow team on paper. They also lost a man to the bin early and conceded two tries to a lost member of the Levellers who was playing at full back for some strange reason. And yet Glasgow never scored again and Cian Kelleher scored two smartly taken tries to take the lead. After that Leinster just managed the game beautifully in the second half. Will Connors tackled like a madman and Ross Byrne kept pinging Glasgow back with some wonderful tactical kicking to go with an assured performance off the tee. In the end Leinster were comfortable enough and the win should be a massive fillip to the whole squad as they head back into European action.

They take on a resurgent Northampton side, who won't have great memories of Leinster's last two visits to Franklin's gardens. In 2013 Leinster thrashed them 40-7 in what was the one great performance of the Matt O'Connor era. Of course that performance was tarnished somewhat by Leinster losing the return match 18-9 in the Aviva. Three years later Leinster were back at Franklin's gardens as the Jim Mallinder era wound itself down in a morass of failure. The score was similar again with Leinster winning 37-10 and this time there was no mistake a week later in the Aviva as Leinster beat a shadow Northampton side 60-13.

By the end of that season Mallinder was gone and the Saints had a tough couple of years where they failed to qualify for the Champions Cup. But an upturn in fortunes has coincided with the arrival of former Wellington Hurricanes coach Chris Boyd last year. He got them back into the Premiership semi-finals last season and back into the Champions Cup.

The club seem to be taking a wiser approach to talent development too. There are still some big money stars from abroad like Owen Franks, Dan Biggar, Taqele Naiyaravoro and Cobus Reinach. However they're now also looking to develop more homegrown talent too with players like Lewis Ludlam, Rory Hutchinson, Tom Collins and Harry Mallinder being brought through in recent years. It's made for a heady mix and not only have they won their first two matches in their pool they also top the Premiership with four wins from five games.

Last week another canny signing Matt Proctor (from Boyd's former club the Hurricanes) scored two tries on his debut as they hammered local rivals Leicester. The New Zealand international is named again at outside centre alongside Scotland international Rory Hutchinson. Ahsee Tuala replaces the injured George Furbank at full back with Tom Collins and Taqele Naiyaravoro remaining on the wing. Welsh international Dan Biggar returns from injury to reclaim his place at half-back alongside Cobus Reinach.

Alex Waller, Mikey Haywood and Ehren Painter are named in the front row again. With Courtney Lawes injured, Fijian international Api Ratuniyarawa partners Alex Moon in the second row. In the back row Jamie Gibson replaces Lewis Ludlam and links up with England internationals Tom Wood and Teimana Harrison who co-captains the team alongside prop Waller.

For Leinster Leo Cullen makes twelve changes from last week's side. Dave Kearney, Jordan Larmour and James Lowe are restored to the back three and Garry Ringrose and Robbie Henshaw are named in midfield. Johnny Sexton captains the team again but Jamison Gibson-Park is retained at half back ahead of Luke McGrath. Cian Healy, Ronan Kelleher and Andrew Porter are the front row with Devin Toner and James Ryan named in the boiler room. Rhys Ruddock, Josh van der Flier and Caelan Doris are the back row. Tadhg Furlong, Scott Fardy, Max Deegan, Luke McGrath, Rob Kearney are among those named on a very strong bench.

This should be a much tougher game than Leinster's last two visits. However Leinster should be able to target the Saints front five who are a lot weaker for the loss of Owen Franks and Courtney Lawes. The backrow contest should be fairly epic too and if Leinster can edge that, they should hopefully be able to grind their way to another away win.

Team Lineups

Northampton Saints

Leinster Rugby
Teams Ahsee Tuala 15 Jordan Larmour
Tom Collins 14 Dave Kearney
Matt Proctor 13 Garry Ringrose
Rory Hutchinson 12 Robbie Henshaw
Taqele Naiyaravoro 11 James Lowe
Dan Biggar 10 Johnny Sexton (C)
Cobus Reinach 9 Jamison Gibson-Park

Alex Waller (Co-C) 1 Cian Healy
Mike Haywood 2 Ronan Kelleher
Ehren Painter 3 Andrew Porter
Alex Moon 4 Devin Toner
Api Ratuniyarawa 5 James Ryan
Tom Wood 6 Rhys Ruddock
Jamie Gibson 7 Josh van der Flier
Teimana Harrison (Co-C) 8 Caelan Doris

Replacements Michael van Vuuren 16 James Tracy
Francois van Wyk 17 Ed Byrne
Paul Hill 18 Tadhg Furlong
Alex Coles 19 Scott Fardy
Lewis Ludlam 20
Max Deegan
Connor Tupai 21 Luke McGrath
James Grayson 22 Ross Byrne
Piers Francis 23 Rob Kearney

Not Considered
due to Injury
Harry Mallinder,
Alex Mitchell,
Reece Marshall,
Reuben Bird-Tulloch,
Henry Taylor,
Ben Franks,
David Ribbans,
James Fish,
George Furbank,
Owen Franks,
Courtney Lawes

Dan Leavy,
Barry Daly,
Jack Conan,
Sean Cronin,
Vakh Abdaladze,
Joe Tomane,
Rory O'Loughlin
Officials Referee: Alexandre Ruiz (France),
Assistant Referees: Ludovic Cayre (France), Cedric Marchat (France),
TMO: Patrick Dellac (France)

by Jim O'Connor, © 2019-12-06