With the battle between Leinster and Montpellier for the top sport in Pool 1 heating up following round three’s results, the men from Dublin needed a big showing to pull clear of their French rivals ahead of their clash at the Aviva Stadium in the new year.
Northampton have deep rooted issues
Despite a spirited performance in the first thirty minutes, this Saints side looked to lack any desire to be in Dublin. Again the Saints were forced to play a man short for a spell in the second half as Flanker Jamie Gibson saw yellow. Whilst sin binings are now common place in professional rugby, this Northampton sides discipline is perhaps the worst of any side in Europes premier club competition. With a number of players renowned for off the ball incidents, the midlands side are certainly in need of a regime and culture change. Unlike many other top side ss the score mounted up the more the Premiership side had no answer, despite possessing quality players such as JJ Hanrahan, Ken and George Pisi and Teimana Harrison this Northampton side offered very little in either attack or defence. In what speaks volumes of side in disarray that coach Jim Mallinder decided to rest a number of front line players for a clash that was essentially a dead rubber for his side. What ensued was a record defeat that has added further pressure to a coaching ticket and playing squad under severe pressure. With whole sale changes to the backroom staff seemingly imminent, it will take not only a strong new coach but also time for one of the Premierships most storied sides to return to change the sides fortunes and return it to its former glories.
Leinster’s young guns continue to step up
Following another sensational display by Leinster’s up and coming players, it has become abundantly clear that the Dublin side possess arguably the most productive academy system in European rugby. Not since the heydays of Toulouse has a side seen so many home-grown players step up to their respective senior set up. With the likes of Ross Byrne and Adam Byrne as well as the likes of the more establish Garry Ringrose and Luke McGrath utterly devastating Northampton with ball in hand, the future is bright for the three time champions. With the introduction of the new European Champions it was feared that the Irish sides would not have the financial might to match their French and English counterparts. Whilst this may have proved true initially with the likes of Saracens and Toulon initially dominating the competition, it appears the IRFU and the Irish provinces have found a way to counteract this new financial imbalance. For this the IRFU performance director David Nucifora deserves a lot of credit. The IRFU’s constant investment in the provinces academy structures has ensure that unlike clubs like Toulon and Racing Metro, the Irish sides can produce players with enough talent to perform on the big stage.
Northampton backrow still a force
Despite being on the receiving end of a hammering, there was one bright for the visitors over the weekend. This came in the form the of the loose trio of Jaime Gibson, Calum Clarke and Teimana Harrison were impressive against a highly talented and experienced Leinster backrow. With Tom Wood having been rested, Northampton at least have one area of their side that is strong to match up with most sides in Europe. The backrow seemed to have a great balance with Gibson leading the charge with 15 tackles as well as offering a strong ball carrying option to get his side over the gain line. Harrison was very impressive on the ground as he constantly slowed down Leinster’s ball whilst also affecting a turnover, with ball in hand he was strong too as he beat three defenders for 31 meters from 13 carries. To finish it off Clarke was a nuisance to Leinster as he combined with Harrison on the ground. With Wood set to return in the place of Clarke, Northampton have a backrow that they can build around as they look to climb up from their current position of ninth on the table to at least the top six as they look to qualify for European action next season.
What is going wrong with the Saints? Can Leinster go all the way? Let us here your thoughts in the comments section below.