Northampton Saints 16-43 Leinster: Johnny Sexton injured as visitors triumph in Champions Cup
By Sky Sports Rugby Union
Last Updated: 07/12/19 8:27pm
An injury to Johnny Sexton marred a bonus-point 43-16 win for Leinster over Northampton Saints which put them clear at the top of Champions Cup Pool 1.
Tries from James Lowe, Rhys Ruddock and Andrew Porter helped the visitors into a 19-16 lead at half-time in Saturday's match, with Cian Healy's score four minutes after the break wrapping up the bonus point.
Replacements Ross Byrne, Luke McGrath and Ed Byrne sealed a comfortable win for last season's Champions Cup runners-up against a game Saints side who never gave up right to the dying minutes.
But there will be concerns over Ireland international fly-half Sexton after he was forced off early in the second half and was seen sat on the touchline with his right knee wrapped in ice.
For Northampton, their first meaningful test in pursuit of a quarter-final spot ended in a defeat which places them under pressure for the return fixture in Dublin next weekend.
The Gallagher Premiership leaders had been superb until colliding with Leinster, catching the eye with an attacking style matched by results in the form of six wins from seven outings.
But they were taught a lesson in European rugby by the four-time champions who fielded greater firepower in most departments and who were able to call on a watertight defence to contain the Saints' assault in the final half-hour.
It took only 131 seconds for Leinster to draw first blood at Franklin's Gardens as they pounced on a Northampton mistake in midfield, with impressive full-back Jordan Larmour tearing downfield before sending winger Lowe over.
Clean line-out ball enabled Saints to respond as Ahsee Tuala and Teimana Harrison made big carries through the middle and, when the move swept left, quick hands ended with full-back Tuala diving over in the right corner.
Larmour's scorching start continued as he took Sexton's clever inside ball and stepped his way into space, offering scrum-half Jamison Gibson-Park sight of the line only for Cobus Reinach to capitalise on a moment's hesitation with a covering tackle.
The away side were not to be denied however and, after several surges, flanker Ruddock forced his way over.
Dan Biggar's accuracy from the kicking tee, combined with his cunning break-up field, helped the hosts regain the lead against the run of play - but they were unable to score again.
After a bright spell from Saints, when they profited from being more direct, Leinster built pressure once more and their power from close range was irresistible as prop Andrew Porter burrowed a path through the home pack.
The second half opened with another searing run from Larmour and his injection of pace was the prelude to waves of forward carries that ended when prop Healy touched down.
It was the worst possible start to the second half for the home side and they were in danger of being blown away as the European heavyweights immediately renewed their attack through Garry Ringrose and Robbie Henshaw.
This time Byrne, on for the injured Sexton, was on hand to finish and to compound home misery co-captain Alex Waller was sent to the sin-bin for a shove from behind moments before the try was scored.
Sexton's exit failed to affect Irish momentum, but a setback did arrive in the form of a yellow card for Ringrose for his tip-tackle on Biggar, who had recovered from a toe injury to take his place at fly-half.
Leinster's defence held firm as Northampton cranked up the intensity, yet a series of handling errors at key moments proved costly, while even giant wing Taqele Naiyaravoro was unable to make any impression.
Ireland lock James Ryan limped off for the visitors too, but it made no odds as additional blows were landed when McGrath and Byrne touched down.