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Leinster Rugby vs Northampton Saints
Heineken European Champions Cup
RDS Arena, Dublin

Saturday, 19th December 2020, 13:00

TV: Live on Virgin Media 2/Channel 4/BT Sports

Well that was easier than expected.

In fairness if you wanted to draw a big, expensive French team in the first round you'd pick Montpellier. Despite all the money pumped in the club for big name imports in the last six or seven years, they always manage to be less than the sum of their parts. The Leinster front five was expected to be under pressure from the huge Montpellier outfit but they had a handy enough run of it. Not only did they do the basics better, they also contributed superbly in the loose, especially Peter Dooley who was channeling Dan Carter with some of his passing.

There was a huge amount of hype about the strength of the Leinster bench as Leo Cullen was forced to leave most of the Ireland internationals out of the starting lineup. But in truth, they weren't really needed as the game was won by the time they got on the pitch. Even the late withdrawal of skipper Johnny Sexton failed to make a difference as Harry Byrne came off the bench to replace his brother Ross and both players ran the show with aplomb. But before Leinster get too pleased with themselves, Montpellier's body language revealed a team that barely cared a damn.

Leinster's away win was one of a remarkable seven out of the twelve fixtures last weekend. The first match of the weekend saw Northampton lose at home to Bordeaux Begles. This prompted their coach Chris Boyd, who's never shy of raising a white flag in this tournament, to speak of resting players for Leinster in the post match interview. Last season Boyd did the same. After Leinster hammered them in Franklin's Gardens, Boyd declared his intention to rest players for the return fixture in the Aviva. They were duly hammered again in the Aviva but ironically they then won their last two pool games to make the quarter-finals where they lost to eventual champions Exeter.

Boyd has been true to his word and has made eight changes from last week. Some of their star players like Owen Franks, Teimana Harrison and Matt Proctor are benched and Courtney Lawes is left out of the match day squad altogether. George Furbank moves from full back to take over from the injured Dan Biggar at out-half and there is some quality outside him in the likes of Rory Hutchinson and the massive winger Taqele Naiyaravoro. There are more internationals in the pack in the likes of Paul Hill, Api Ratuniyarawa, Nick Isiekwe and Tom Wood. Alex Waller leads the team from loosehead prop in his 50th European experience.

For Leinster there's a whole new front five as Cian Healy, Ronan Kelleher, Andrew Porter, Ryan Baird and James Ryan all coming in to start. The backrow remains the same though with Rhys Ruddock continuing as skipper. Harry Byrne comes in at ten to make his first European start alongside Jamison Gibson-Park. The only change in the outside backs sees Garry Ringrose return from injury to take his place at outside centre which means Robbie Henshaw moves inside.

Leinster can never afford to be complacent but a good professional performance should see them win this comfortably.

Team Lineups

Leinster Rugby
Northampton Saints
Teams Jimmy O'Brien 15 Tom Collins
Hugo Keenan 14 Ryan Olowofela
Garry Ringrose 13 Fraser Dingwall
Robbie Henshaw 12 Rory Hutchinson
Dave Kearney 11 Taqele Naiyaravoro
Harry Byrne 10 George Furbank
Jamison Gibson-Park 9 Tom James

Cian Healy 1 Alex Waller (C)
Ronan Kelleher
2 Sam Matavesi
Andrew Porter 3 Paul Hill
Ryan Baird 4 Alex Moon
James Ryan 5 Api Ratuniyarawa
Rhys Ruddock (C)
6 Nick Isiekwe
Josh van der Flier 7 Tom Wood
Caelan Doris 8 Shaun Adendorff

Replacements James Tracy 16 Mikey Haywood
Peter Dooley 17 Francois van Wyk
Michael Bent 18 Owen Franks
Ross Molony 19 Alex Coles
Josh Murphy 20 Teimana Harrison
Luke McGrath 21 Henry Taylor
Ross Byrne 22 Piers Francis
Dan Leavy 23 Matt Proctor

Not Considered
due to Injury
Vakh Abdaladze,
Conor O'Brien,
Adam Byrne,
Tadhg Furlong,
Max Deegan,
Jordan Larmour,
Jack Conan,
Sean Cronin,
Tommy O'Brien,
Rory O'Loughlin,
Will Connors,
Ed Byrne,
James Lowe,
Jonathan Sexton

Dan Biggar,
Danny Hobbs-Awoyemi,
Lewis Ludlam,
Ollie Sleightholme,
Kayde Sylvester
Officials Referee: Pierre Brousset,
Assistant referees: Sean Gallagher, Eoghan Cross,
Fourth official: Nigel Correll
TMO: Olly Hodges

by Jim O'Connor, © 2020-12-18