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Leinster humiliate Saints

07th December 2013 19:50

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Brian O Driscoll Leinster HEC v Saints

Vintage performance: Brian O'Driscoll

Leinster produced a Heineken Cup title-worthy performance in a 40-7 humiliation of Northampton Saints at Franklin's Gardens.

The first half in itself was one of the greatest 40 minutes of Heineken Cup rugby ever produced by one team.

Leinster's full starting XV of Irish internationals no doubt still had Ryan Crotty's heartbreaking blow fresh in their minds from a fortnight ago against the All Blacks, and they produced the kind of idyllic start in blue shirts as they had in Irish green in Dublin.

Northampton are not the All Blacks but they are a team packed with talent; George North, Samu Manoa, Tom Wood et al. They were made however to look like a second-string side, unable to handle the speed at which Leinster recycled quality possession and then capitalised on it with purposeful, aggressive running and touches of sublime skill.

It is a testament to Brian O'Driscoll that even at the age of 34, he continues to defy belief. This, a vintage performance, was one of his finest in recent memory.

The shift of Ken Pisi to full-back following James Wilson's late withdrawal left Northampton disorganised and when O'Driscoll's immaculate grubber hounded him with the final bounce, Luke Fitzgerald was there to touch down in the corner after three minutes for the first of his three tries.

Northampton - rattled - were cornered deep in their own half and unable to contain a brilliantly aggressive opening period from the three-time champions.

O'Driscoll was again the creator - mesmerisingly flicking the ball through his legs as only players of his ilk can do - with Fitzgerald the executioner over in that far corner where Pisi had been bamboozled.

Time might have been on Northampton's side to stage a fightback but momentum certainly wasn't at the scrum - where they missed the expertise of the injured Alex Corbisiero - the breakdown or truthfully, anywhere.

Saints are a side constructed around power and the carrying of Dylan Hartley, Luther Burrell, Courtney Lawes and the rest, but they were blown away physically while O'Driscoll played architect.

Bursting onto the gain line time and again meant Leinster left Northampton scrambling, with the hosts fortunate that an indiscretion at the breakdown wasn't punished by Ian Madigan - the fly-half's strike a complete misfire at best.

Leinster's supremacy bordered on ferocious. Quicker ball and the interchange between Madigan and Sean Cronin allowed Rob Kearney enough space to leave George North at first guessing and then clutching at thin air - the Ireland full-back releasing Jamie Heaslip for the third try. It threatened to be a humiliation and duly became one.

With half an hour gone and 19-0 down, what other option did Northampton have but to kick for the corner from a penalty?

The series of possession that followed came to nothing. Saints finished the half scoreless, bloodied and reeling from that opening flurry delivered by Leinster on the chin.

They had another swing left before the bell. Pisi's fresh relationship with the 15 jersey continued to sour as he was targeted by Madigan with a kick into the night sky. When the ball landed in blue hands, Eoin Reddan's speed of thought spotted the inevitable gap and Leinster had a bonus point wrapped up with 36 minutes played. Northampton were never meant to fold like this.

All of that was in the first half. Cronin nearly executed the perfect imitation of a centre when he broke away and outpaced nearly everyone, but his final pass to Fitzgerald drifted forward.

The onus from Leinster having secured the bonus point became less about attack and more leaving their hosts as demoralised as possible before the rematch in Dublin next weekend.

O'Driscoll, Fitzgerald and Reddan nearly combined for another sensational score with the ball refusing to stick to the scrum-half's hands. The great man though was not done - O'Driscoll pouncing for an interception score to lavish more gloss on the impressive scoreline.

Lee Dickson, by far and away Northampton's best player, fittingly burrowed over to ensure that the hosts would not suffer the maximum shame of being nilled on their own turf. He set an example of determination and grit, but the level of work that Jim Mallinder and his coaching staff will have to do this week is eye watering.

It was something to take to Dublin, or so it seemed until Luke Fitzgerald dived over for his hat-trick after Gordon D'Arcy's outside arc found the space behind the defensive line.

If Leinster can produce such an astonishing attacking masterclass away from home, then imagine the carnage at the Aviva Stadium seven days from now. O'Driscoll may never defeat the All Blacks, but a fourth Heineken Cup title now feels like a possibility.

The scorers:

For Northampton:
Try: Dickson
Con: Myler

For Leinster:
Tries: Fitzgerald 3, Heaslip, Reddan, O'Driscoll
Cons: Madigan 5
Yellow Card: Bent

Northampton Saints: 15 James Wilson, 14 Ken Pisi, 13 Dom Waldouck, 12 Luther Burrell, 11 George North, 10 Stephen Myler, 9 Lee Diickson, 8 Sam Dickinson, 7 Phil Dowson, 6 Tom Wood, 5 Courtney Lawes, 4 Samu Manoa, 3 Salesi Ma'afu, 2 Dylan Hartley (capt), 1 Alex Waller.
Replacements: 16 Mike Haywood, 17 Ethan Waller, 18 Tom Mercey, 19 Christian Day, 20 Calum Clark, 21 Ryan Glynn, 22 Glenn Dickson, 23 Jamie Elliott.

Leinster: 15 Rob Kearney, 14 Dave Kearney, 13 Brian O'Driscoll, 12 Gordon D'Arcy, 11 Luke Fitzgerald, 10 Ian Madigan, 9 Eoin Reddan, 8 Jamie Heaslip (c), 7 Sean O'Brien, 6 Rhys Ruddock, 5 Mike McCarthy, 4 Devin Toner, 3 Mike Ross, 2 Sean Cronin, 1 Cian Healy.
Replacements: 16 Aaron Dundon, 17 Jack McGrath, 18 Martin Moore, 19 Leo Cullen, 20 Shane Jennings, 21 Isaac Boss, 22 Jimmy Gopperth, 23 Zane Kirchner.

Referee: Nigel Owens (Wales)
Assistant referees: Sean Brickell, Jonathan Mason (both Wales)
TMO: Tim Hayes (Wales)

by Ben Coles
@bencoles_

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