Tom Vickers’ Leinster v Saints view and player ratings
There have been some heroic showings in the recent history of Northampton Saints, but perhaps none more so than the one they produced in Dublin on Saturday night.
This, after all, was a Saints team that had been embarrassed by Leinster a week earlier. The 40-7 defeat at Franklin’s Gardens was an evisceration. An utter annihilation.
But only when you have reached your nadir can you truly appreciate the highest of highs - and that was the case for Northampton at the Aviva Stadium.
The outpouring of emotion as Jamie Elliott burst towards the Leinster line after the clock had gone dead was immense.
Saints fans everywhere, at the ground and at home, roared the diminutive winger on and even press box professionalism went out of the window.
Because this was a moment for everyone of a Northampton persuasion to savour.
A memory to endure the harshest of Temple Bar-inspired hangovers.
Saints fans will watch that final sequence of events over and over again, pinching themselves to make sure it wasn’t all some sort of wild hallucination.
Leinster had looked sure to score as the 80-minute mark approached. Phase after phase went by as they set up camp on the Saints line.
It seemed like an eternity.
It felt like another Munster moment was beckoning, as victory looked like it would be ripped from the Northampton grasp in the cruelest of fashions.
But Saints, as they had for the entirety of the game, stood strong, their iron will on show as they refused to be punctured.
And when Jamie Heaslip spilled the ball, Elliott, sharp as a tack, picked it up and ran for his life, denying the Irish team even the consolation of a bonus point.
Passion and pride packaged in green, black and gold. The Saints boys weren’t going to be beaten. Not again.
They were labelled embarrassing by some sections of the home support a week earlier. This time they were the antithesis.
Northampton were strong, determined and unbreakable.
To only concede nine points, via three Ian Madigan penalties, in the Aviva Stadium hothouse is an incredible effort.
It was reminiscent of Ravenhill last year. It had a hint of Allianz Park in May. But, really, this was incomparable to anything that had gone before.
Saints didn’t win the Heineken Cup with this triumph. Heck, they face a struggle just to get out of the pool this season as they remain four points adrift of Leinster.
But whatever happens from here on in, they have given their town something to be proud of.
It seems criminal that there may not be English representation in the Heineken Cup next season.
It will be a huge loss to the competition because battles like this Anglo-Irish ding-dong are what it’s all about.
Excitement, exhilaration and true underdog spirit shining through.
It was written in this publication before the game that Saints are at their best with their backs to the wall.
They are dangerous when backed into a corner. And so it proved.
They have lost just four times away from home in 2013. A quite amazing record.
The ‘Why not us?’ phrase may have had its day, but the meaning behind it lives on.
And so will memories of this magical December night in Dublin.
How they rated...
Looked a little lost at times in the game at the Gardens eight days earlier, but this was some way to bounce back. An outstanding recovery from the Samoan... 9
His last-minute try will live long in the memory, but his performance was about so much more than that. Brilliant in attack and defence... 9
GEORGE NORTH - CHRON STAR MAN
Thrived on playing at centre, getting more of the ball and forming a fearsome partnership with Luther Burrell, who teed him up for Saints’ first try... 9
Another monumental display from the big man. He just gets better and better, excelling in all aspects of the game... 8
What a performance from the 19-year-old, who was thrust into starting following Dom Waldouck’s injury. Looked completely at home on the big stage... 8
Great game management from the fly-half. Didn’t have his best night from the tee, but more than made up for it with his all-round play... 8
Is an important leader in the team and kept pushing Saints on. Wasn’t his best game, though, and was replaced early in the second half... 7
Played another key role in a dominant Saints scrum and was so impressive in the way he handled another huge occasion... 8
The skipper led by example, putting in a ferocious performance that defied belief in its sheer physicality... 9
The big Australian missed out on the game at the Gardens a week earlier, but he was back here and he had a big impact... 8
Massive display from the beanpole lock, who battered Leinster in attack and stood up to everything that was thrown at him in defence... 9
Such an important component of the Saints side and his influence shone through as he marshaled the lineout superbly and covered a huge amount of ground... 8
Was one of the main men in halting Leinster attacks, putting in an enormous display at the breakdown... 8
What a player this man is. An incredible effort at the breakdown and his physicality was incredible as he ensured Leinster had the door shut in their faces... 9
An unstoppable force who never fails to amaze with his level of performance. Saints could not be happier to have this man on their side... 9
Replacements (who played more than 20 minutes)
TOM MERCEY (for Ma’afu 53)
Kept Saints going forward in the scrum with a powerful performance that was crucial as his team stayed strong... 7
KAHN FOTUALI’I (for Dickson 53)
Added real class to proceedings. His passing was sharp and his left-foot drop goal was a clever piece of thinking that provided a crucial three points... 8