IT’S THE FIRST competitive meeting between Northampton and Leinster since that incredible 2011 Heineken Cup final.
The Saints are out for revenge, but Leinster are bringing the majority of Joe Schmidt’s nearly men to Franklin’s Gardens (KO 18.00) confident that they can beat anybody.
The Saints are weakened by the absence of George Pisi, Ben Foden and Kahn Fotuali’i, but they can still boast plenty of quality to add to that desire for revenge.
Here’s where we think the game will be won and lost.
Courtney Lawes v Devin Toner
One of the major driving forces behind Ireland’s performance against New Zealand was the performance of Devin Toner. Put simply, we’ve never seen the lengthy lock play with such precision and aggression.
Courtney Lawes has plenty of muscle to make himself felt, but until this season precision has been his problem. Saints will look to Lawes to give them an advantage in the engine room, but if Toner can bring the same attitude he confronted Sam Whitelock and Brodie Retallick with, then Lawes will have his hands very, very full.
Lee Dickson v Eoin Reddan
Dickson is probably an inferior scrum-half to Fotuali’i, but he too brings a physical presence on top of his distribution game.
During the Schmidt years, Reddan often found himself selected as a ‘home’ number nine with Isaac Boss handed the reins on the road. Up against the England international, this is Reddan’s chance to perhaps make Schmidt review those past decisions by vindicating this Matt O’Connor selection with a high tempo to put Saints on the back foot.
George North v Dave Kearney
Like Toner, the younger Kearney was one of those men in green who played out of their skin against new Zealand, far above anything they had produced before. However, matching up opposite Corey Jane is one thing, but George North brings a whole different challenge to the table (just ask Israel Folau).
Kearney will look to keep close tabs on the Welsh wing, chopping him low, fast, before he can build up a head of steam. And if he can kick in behind him and make him turn, all the better.
Northampton: James Wilson, Ken Pisi, Dom Waldouck, Luther Burrell, George North, Steve Myler, Lee Dickson, Alex Waller, Dylan Hartley (capt), Salesi Ma’afu, Samu Manoa, Courtney Lawes, Tom Wood, Phil Dowson, Sam Dickinson.
Mikey Haywood, Ethan Waller, Tom Mercey, Christian Day, Calum Clark, Ryan Glynn, Glenn Dickson, Jamie Elliott,
Leinster: Rob Kearney, Dave Kearney, Brian O’Driscoll, Gordon D’Arcy, Luke Fitzgerald, Ian Madigan, Eoin Reddan, Cian Healy, Sean Cronin, Mike Ross, Devin Toner, Mike McCarthy, Rhys Ruddock, Sean O’Brien, Jamie Heaslip (capt).
Aaron Dundon, Jack McGrath, Martin Moore, Leo Cullen, Shane Jennings, Isaac Boss, Jimmy Gopperth, Zane Kirchner.