Northampton Saints 16 Leinster 43: Tom Vickers' review and player ratings

For 38 minutes of Saturday's game at Franklin's Gardens, Saints supporters could sit back and marvel at how far their team had come.

Sunday, 8th December 2019, 4:51 pm
Updated Sunday, 8th December 2019, 4:52 pm
Teimana Harrison did everything he could to carry Saints forward against Leinster

But come full-time, it was more a matter of looking at how far they still have to go.

Because two minutes before the break, Saints were 16-14 up against the favourites for this season's Champions Cup.

A year on from the first game of their Challenge Cup double-header against Timisoara Saracens, Saints were now squaring up to the continent's best - and they were beating them.

But by the time the final whistle sounded, Leinster had shown their all-court class, walking away with a bonus-point success that encompassed seven tries from the blue machine.

They continue to march on, maintaining their 100 per cent record in all competitions this season ahead of next Saturday's rematch with Saints at the Aviva Stadium in Dublin.

How did they do it?

Well, in various ways.

Connor Tupai was part of a youthful Saints bench

Put simply, they were strong in all areas.

In defence, they soaked up so much pressure, particularly during the first 20 minutes of a second half in which they stopped Saints scoring a single point.

In the lineout, they cranked up the heat, on their own ball and when Saints had the throw.

And when they got the chance to counter, they did it with ruthless efficiency, particularly during a first half in which Jordan Larmour and James Lowe looked electric.

Teimana Harrison kept running at the blue wall

Leinster delivered the kind of complete display that Saints rarely encounter in the Gallagher Premiership.

There are usually quite a few weaknesses to exploit, as Saints showed when tearing Leicester Tigers to shreds on the previous weekend.

But teams like Leinster and Saracens at their best don't allow many chinks of light.

And Leinster are not only full of class but they are also full of - to borrow a Chris Boyd term - petrol.

Ahsee Tuala was Saints' try scorer

They don't have the demands that the Premiership brings.

They are able to rest and rotate at will, targeting every single Champions Cup fixture as if it is a final.

Saints do not have that luxury and, not only that, they also had to deal with a laundry list of injuries.

To beat Leinster, you need a full squad that delivers a flawless display.

Saints did not have that, and they did not do that.

There were errors made that they were left to rue, with so much possession lost in enemy territory.

Luke McGrath helped to end Saints' hopes of a comeback late on

Time and again, Saints' momentum was ruined by a mistake, but you also have to credit Leinster for forcing those errors, with their defensive linespeed and ability to scramble second to none.

They are the benchmark in Europe and Saints, who have come so far under the shrewd stewardship of Boyd and his coaches, can see what kind of journey they must still go on.

They need to find a way to cope with the raw physicality of sides such as this, but that is easier said than done with the Premiership's financial constraints and the nature of the league itself.

That being said, you won't hear many excuses being made.

Because Saints fully believe that they can eventually compete with Europe's elite.

And experiences like the one on Saturday can only do them good as this young team develops.

In 2013 and 2016, Saints suffered big home defeats in double-headers with Leinster.

But whereas on those occasions, Leinster sapped the life out of their spirit, this time it was purely the legs that went, not the minds.

Saints kept fighting and had they been able to call on more of their experienced players from the bench, they may have conjured up a much closer conclusion.

As it was, Leinster made the most of the home side's fatigue to give the scoreline a real gloss.

And they will be confident of backing it up in Dublin next week.

But if there is one quality this Saints side possesses above all others, it is belief.

And you won't be telling them they can't go to the Aviva Stadium and at least give Leinster a run for their money next weekend.

Whatever happens, Saints will at least be pleased that they don't have to venture into the depths of a Romanian winter, as they did last year.

And for that, and the journey they have been on during 2019, their supporters should be extremely thankful.

How they rated...

AHSEE TUALA

Grabbed the only Saints try, just as he did when Leinster won at the Gardens in 2016, but couldn't play too much more of a role in the game... 5.5

TOM COLLINS

Was so unlucky to see the bounce of the ball stop him from scoring a try and he competed well in the air, but he didn't have the space he needed to shine... 5.5

MATT PROCTOR

An eventful outing from the New Zealand centre who seemed to be in the thick of the action, carrying hard and defending plenty... 6.5

RORY HUTCHINSON

Was razor-sharp as ever in attack during the first half, but Leinster found a way to stop him making his trademark key passes and tested him in defence... 6

TAQELE NAIYARAVORO

Not the birthday the big man wanted as Leinster found a way to shut him and Saints down on a difficult afternoon... 5.5

DAN BIGGAR

Produced some tidy play during the first period and tried to orchestrate a Saints comeback in the second but he was eventually given a late breather... 6.5

COBUS REINACH

Made one of the best try-saving tackles you will see, having earlier handed Leinster a chance to break for a score. Was always lively but took a knock in the second half... 6.5

ALEX WALLER

Got stuck in for his side but found himself in the sin bin towards the end of the first half... 5.5

MIKE HAYWOOD

A few lineouts were read by Leinster but that wasn't all his fault and he made an incredible 21 tackles in a huge shift for his side... 7

EHREN PAINTER

Didn't miss a tackle, making 10 as he tried to help Saints compete with Leinster's brutality... 6

ALEX MOON

Was one again namechecked by Chris Boyd for his showing after the game as he delivered a good second-row showing... 6.5

API RATUNIYARAWA

Seemed to be everywhere at times, knocking loudly on the Leinster door with his power and racking up 19 tackles without missing a single one... 7.5

TOM WOOD

A ferocious display from the flanker as he threw himself into contact time and again, bleeding for the cause and even coming back on late on for more... 7

JAMIE GIBSON

Came into the team for Lewis Ludlam to give Saints a back row freshness but Leinster stopped his threat... 6

TEIMANA HARRISON

Topped Saints' tackle count with an incredible 26 as he continually put his body on the line, also making some big carries in attack... 7.5

Replacements (who played more than 20 minutes)

PAUL HILL (for Painter 50)

Wasn't an easy time to come on as Leinster had taken charge of the game, but he did what he could for his team... 5.5

LEWIS LUDLAM (for Wood 50)

Came on with Saints looking to rebuild and he added some energy, making plenty of tackles and trying to take the fight to Leinster... 6.5

FRANCOIS VAN WYK (for Waller 58)

Didn't do much wrong after coming on but the game was drifting away from Saints at this point... 5.5

PIERS FRANCIS (for Tuala 58)

Did everything he could to get in the game, showing how happy he was to be back after a short injury lay-off... 5.5

CHRON STAR MAN - Josh van der Flier (Leinster)