Big Game Preview: Northampton Saints v Leinster

Rich Dore
06 December 2019

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Saturday afternoon, 1pm, Franklin’s Gardens – the Champions Cup is delivering an early Christmas present for rugby fans with a coming together of the current best team in the Guinness PRO14 and the best team in the English Premiership.

Northampton Saints versus Leinster is the one to get the juices flowing this weekend and in a battle of two sides flying high – someone is going to have to give.

Team News

Johnny Sexton will captain Leinster for the match, while Jordan Larmour, Dave Kearney and James Lowe have been selected by coach Leo Cullen in his back three, with Robbie Henshaw and Garry Ringrose in the centre.

In the half-backs Jamison Gibson-Park partners Sexton, while in the pack Cian Healy, Rónan Kelleher and Andrew Porter are in the front row with Devin Toner and James Ryan behind them in the second.

Finally in the back row, Rhys Ruddock has been selected at blindside, with Josh van der Flier at openside and finally Caelan Doris at No.8

Northampton director of rugby Chris Boyd has made three changes to his starting line-up from the weekend.

Saints put local rivals Leicester Tigers to the sword last time out and Boyd has not strayed far from that formula this week, with fit-again fly-half Dan Biggar, full-back Ahsee Tuala and flanker Jamie Gibson the only three changes to that side.

Form

Both of these teams are playing scintillating stuff at present and will be full of confidence, Leinster of course coming off the back of that impressive Round 7 victory away at Glasgow Warriors.

That makes them seven for seven in the Championship while Europe couldn’t be going much better for Leo Cullen’s men either, a home bonus point win over Benetton followed up by a muscular victory away at Lyon – 13-6.

Leinster currently top Pool 1 based on points difference but are level on nine points with Northampton, who battered Lyon in Round 1 and then held their nerve to edge past Benetton 35-32 in Round 2.

The Chris Boyd revolution is well into its second season at Northampton and the Kiwi has his men keeping to their traditions in being strong up front, combined with newly-added Super Rugby-esque sharpness in the backs.

What they said

Cullen has been eyeing up Northampton for some time already: “We actually played Northampton in pre-season, so we’ve had a game. I think the two teams will have a very, very different look of course to that preseason match.

“It was a good game, lots of tries were scored, but it will have a very different feel I think when we go over there.

“They’ve had a few players away with different teams at the World Cup, so I think they’re going to be a real handful for us.

“Cobus Reinach, Dan Biggar, [Owen] Franks, [Matt] Proctor. There are some of the England guys – Courtney Lawes, Lewis Ludlam – they’ve got plenty of guys to come back in to the mix there.”

Meanwhile Boyd has also been discussing one-time All Black Proctor this week after his double on Premiership debut against Leicester Tigers: “As soon as I saw his name on the ‘available’ list, I knew he wasn’t going anywhere else.

“I’ve been watching him play footy since he was about 13 years old and, while he’s not always going to be the flashiest guy around the place, he works really hard, has good touch and knows the game well. I think he’s a good acquisition for us and I’m really glad he’s here.”

Key stat

Three of the six players to make 5+ clean breaks in the Champions Cup could feature in this match – Northampton Saints duo Cobus Reinach and Tom Collins, and Leinster’s Josh van der Flier (5 each).

Prediction

This one is an early-season defining game and both sides will be going hammer and tongs in an incredibly tough match to call.

Saints are going well in England, four wins from five, but are still unproven at the very highest level, Leinster are not.

With Northampton liable to a few too many penalties and Leinster with a largely fresh squad, we have Cullen’s men down to win this by a score.

Teams

Leinster: 15. Jordan Larmour, 14. Dave Kearney, 13. Garry Ringrose, 12. Robbie Henshaw, 11. James Lowe, 10. Johnny Sexton, 9. Jamison Gibson-Park, 1. Cian Healy, 2. Rónan Kelleher, 3. Andrew Porter, 4. Devin Toner, 5. James Ryan, 6. Rhys Ruddock, 7. Josh van der Flier, 8. Caelan Doris

Replacements: 16. James Tracy, 17. Ed Byrne, 18. Tadhg Furlong, 19. Scott Fardy, 20. Max Deegan, 21. Luke McGrath, 22. Ross Byrne, 23. Rob Kearney

Northampton Saints: 15. Ahsee Tuala, 14. Tom Collins, 13. Matt Proctor, 12. Rory Hutchinson, 11. Taqele Naiyaravoro, 10. Dan Biggar, 9. Cobus Reinach, 1. Alex Waller (co-capt), 2. Mike Haywood, 3. Ehren Painter, 4. Alex Moon, 5. Api Ratuniyarawa, 6. Tom Wood, 7. Jamie Gibson, 8. Teimana Harrison (co-capt)

Replacements: 16. Michael van Vuuren, 17. Francois van Wyk, 18. Paul Hill, 19. Alex Coles, 20. Lewis Ludlam, 21. Connor Tupai, 22. James Grayson, 23. Piers Francis


Cardiff City Stadium will play host to the 2020 Guinness PRO14 Final on June 20 as one of the most exciting days in the club rugby calendar comes to Wales!

General sale tickets are available from http://bit.ly/PRO14Cardiff2020 and prices start at just £13 for concessions and £26 for adults (subject to booking fees), that’s a 15% early bird discount. Family ticket (2 adults / 2 children) prices begin at £64 and fans are encouraged to buy early to get the best value tickets.

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