Leinster 50 Northampton Saints 21: Tom Vickers' review and player ratings

When Saints look back on their season come June, they can either reflect on their double Leinster lesson in a positive or negative manner.

Sunday, 15th December 2019, 6:41 pm
Updated Sunday, 15th December 2019, 6:43 pm
Taqele Naiyaravoro was in action for Saints at the Aviva Stadium

It will be positive if they use the Irish giants as a yardstick and the players who have been involved in these matches are inspired to raise their game in the weeks and months to come.

It will be a negative if they allow the concession of 14 tries and the back-to-back defeats to derail their Gallagher Premiership and Champions Cup bids.

Because having previously felt these Leinster fixtures would potentially define Saints' European campaign, it is now clear that is not necessarily the case.

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In fact, heading to Dublin, Chris Boyd and his fellow coaches took a calculated risk that a loss at the Aviva Stadium, which would come hot on the heels of one against the same team at the Gardens, would not extinguish the Champions Cup flame.

And as it turned out, they were right.

Because although Saints got nothing from a physically imposing and technically excellent Leinster team on either occasion, they are still more than in the hunt to make the last eight.

Now, some supporters may question what the point of Saints getting through is, given they would be likely to have to face Leinster, or another team of similar stature, away in the bid to reach the semi-finals.

But you just don't know what can happen later in the season and you would expect Saints to be able to call on far more firepower come quarter-final time.

Over the past few weeks, they have been shorn of Owen Franks, Courtney Lawes and David Ribbans, to name but a few.

And in Dublin, they took the decision to rest weary bodies while also being forced to do without several injured stars.

For fans who travelled to Ireland, there was obviously disappointment that the likes of Mike Haywood, Teimana Harrison and Rory Hutchinson didn't make the trip.

But these players are only human.

They have played pretty much every week since the start of the season and, with three big Premiership games to come before crunch European fixtures against Benetton and Lyon, Saints decided to give them a well-earned breather.

You can understand fans wanting to see the best side Saints have at their disposal play every week, but with this brutal schedule, caused by the World Cup and the fact there are no Premiership Rugby Cup breaks, it simply isn't possible.

The result is tough days like the ones Saints experienced on Saturday.

They came up against a fit and firing Leinster team, who were not only fresher but more experienced on the big stage, not to mention the talent they possess.

They would undoubtedly have pushed a fully fit Saints team all the way, but as it happened, they didn't face anywhere near that.

Saints were found wanting for intensity and resilience early on as Leinster looked set to run riot.

And while this was more 2016 than 2013 - Saints lost 60-13 in Dublin three years ago but won 18-9 there three years earlier - it wasn't all negative.

Yes, the amount of tries was similar to three years ago, but the spirit that was shown and some of the trouble Saints caused in attack was not.

They delivered some tidy tries, through Dan Biggar, Ollie Sleightholme and Ahsee Tuala, having only scored once, through a Ken Pisi breakaway effort, on their previous visit to the Aviva Stadium.

And they put pressure on until the end, ruing their failure to at least come away with a try bonus point.

Leinster were never going to give them any early Christmas presents though, and the referee did his best Scrooge impression at times, too.

But for many Saints players, it was more about looking at themselves and seeing just how high the bar is at this level.

They have promise and experiences like this can only help to shape them for the future.

Saints didn't win the battle in Dublin, but they are not out of the European war just yet.

And now it is time for them to turn their attentions back to what they hope will be a more level playing field in the weeks to come.

If they can get some of their walking wounded back and kick on, they can ensure these Leinster weeks don't come back to haunt them during a hugely significant part of the season.

How they rated...

AHSEE TUALA

Was needlessly sin-binned during the first half as he made a rash decision to pull back James Lowe off the ball, but he responded well, scoring one try and setting up another... 6

OLLIE SLEIGHTHOLME

Was given a tough test by Dave Kearney, who beat him for one of the tries, but he bounced back well, scoring once again and making a superb saving tackle to stop a try... 6

MATT PROCTOR

This man looks like the real deal for Saints. He delivered a couple of superb passes here, battled all the way to the end and showed some real flashes of class... 7

ANDY SYMONS

His night didn't start well as he saw a kick charged down, but he produced a great offload for Biggar's try and had some reasons to smile... 5.5

TAQELE NAIYARAVORO

Leinster have managed to succeed where many Premiership teams haven't as they have stopped the big man scoring, despite his best efforts... 6

DAN BIGGAR

Really dug in for his team, showing proper grit in defence and attack, delivering a try and kicking anything that came his way... 6.5

CONNOR TUPAI

The young man could be proud of his first Champions Cup start as he stepped in on the big stage and showed no fear... 6

FRANCOIS VAN WYK

Helped Saints to compete well in the scrum but Leinster tested Saints' big men by moving them around the park at speed... 6

MICHAEL VAN VUUREN

Came in as Mike Haywood was given a rest and it was not an easy game to be part of, but he gave his all... 5.5

PAUL HILL

Was making his 100th Saints appearance and attracted praise from boss Chris Boyd after as he put in a decent shift... 6.5

API RATUNIYARAWA

Was guilty of dropping the ball in good positions on a couple of occasions, but his work rate was huge as he topped Saints' carry charts alongside Lewis Ludlam on 15... 6.5

ALEX COLES

Didn't have any time to make an impact as he was forced off with a head injury during the early stages of the match

TOM WOOD

Was harshly sin-binned during the first half and did not find favour with the referee as he conceded five penalties on his 200th Saints appearance, but he fought so hard... 6

JAMIE GIBSON

Was forced to limp off early on as his efforts took a toll. The flanker made 15 tackles without missing one... 6

LEWIS LUDLAM

Stood out for Saints in attack, constantly popping up to take the ball into traffic, making plenty of metres for his team... 7

Replacements (who played more than 20 minutes)

LEWIS BEAN (for Coles 4)

Was not supposed to get this many minutes but he showed his stamina by topping Saints' tackle count with 16. Did give away three penalties as he sought to get stuck in... 6

SAM MATAVESI (for van Vuuren 48)

A first Saints appearance for the Fiji hooker who was certainly fired up when he emerged from the bench... 5

FRASER DINGWALL (for Symons 48)

Another good experience for the youngster as he came on with Saints battling against the tide and did okay... 5

ALEX WALLER (for van Wyk 58)

The game was already pretty much gone in terms of the outcome by the time the prop came on, but he got a few hits in... 5

CHRON STAR MAN - James Lowe (Leinster)