A home bonus-point win for mighty Leinster over a side they have ravaged more than a few times in the past was the least to expect – and was pretty much all they delivered. The Dublin-based side took what they came for in simple fashion.
Northampton’s travails continue, their form so strangely imploding since the virus put an end to normal service in March. They were competitive, after a fashion, but know this competition is a luxury they cannot afford to dream of, so the avoidance of humiliation might register as a bonus of sorts.
“If we’d come here and taken a pasting of 60 points to nil, that might have had an impact,” said Chris Boyd, Northampton’s director for rugby. “But we’ve got about half a dozen guys to come back into the team for next week against Worcester. We learnt a bit about some players. The performance was as important as the result for us.”
It seemed likely that Saints would finish the day with 14, after the officials studied Tom Wood’s clear-out of Josh van der Flier in the second half, which met with the latter’s head. They decided to let it go, a decision about which the Leinster coach, Leo Cullen, had no complaint. Another set of officials might have decided otherwise, although Wood was under control and had few other options to bind on. By then, in any case, the game was done.
Leinster were some way shy of their best team, too. If Northampton had needed further encouraging, Leinster’s doctor supplied it, removing two more of the hosts’ key players on the day. Harry Byrne and Caelen Doris, fly-half and No 8, went down with injuries, the former replaced by his elder brother, Ross, an Ireland international. Within 10 minutes Leinster had lost their full-back, Jimmy O’Brien, to injury too.
Northampton could not take advantage. By the time O’Brien had taken his leave, Leinster were a try up and then another up a few minutes after that. Both were soft, a theme repeated throughout. The defensive lapses that have plagued Northampton since the resumption from lockdown were still in evidence. Most of the day’s tries came direct from scrums, Leinster’s lapses almost as glaring as those of the visitors
Garry Ringrose made the incision for the game’s first try, straight from a scrum, which paved the way for Josh Murphy, Doris’s replacement, to crash over. Minutes later Ryan Baird, a lock, galloped clean through as if he were a back. Northampton survived that one, but when they chose to scrum a free-kick in their own 22 they merely ceded a free-kick back to their hosts, who tapped and charged for Cian Healy to drive over.
At that point an all-too-familiar rout seemed in the offing, but the next two tries were scored by the Saints, who pulled back to within three a few minutes short of the break. Both were from scrums too. Leinster were hardly rock-solid in defence themselves.
Fraser Dingwall picked a great line off Tom James’s pass for Northampton’s first, before James himself picked up from a scrum and dummied his way through to the line. An earlier Byrne penalty proved the difference at that point, but after a Byrne break – from another scrum – a long ball by Jamison Gibson-Park put Dave Kearney into the corner on the stroke of half-time.
Gibson-Park took his turn just after the restart, running clean through to the line straight from a scrum to open up a 29-14 lead for Leinster and claim the bonus point, only to undo his good work by conceding a try just a minute later. Nick Isiekwe charged down his kick and then sauntered over to score Northampton’s third.
The frenzy was over, as a biting wind whipped some rain into the mix. Leinster were sober enough to kick for goal twice in the final quarter when offered penalties. They took what the rugby world assumed they would, maximum points, albeit without the accustomed flourish. Top spot in Pool A remains theirs.