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Leinster heads to Final after holding off Saints fightback

MATCH REPORT: Leinster managed to scrape through to the Final of the Champions Cup after beating Northampton 20-17 at Croke Park in Dublin on Saturday night.


A hat-trick from wing James Lowe had given the Irish club what seemed to be an insurmountable lead, only for Northampton Saints to nearly complete a historic comeback.

The Irish province was in the ascendancy for most of the game, Leinster taking firm control of what was initially a scrappy opening few moments amidst an electric Croke Park atmosphere, where a record Champions Cup attendance of 82,300 was set.

Lowe’s first try came after some quick thinking from scrumhalf Jamison Gibson-Park; noticing the Nottingham Saints defence asleep, the scrumhalf tapped a quick penalty right on the English club’s five meter line before launching an exquisite pass out wide to his fellow Player of the Year nominee to dot down.

Lowe and Gibson-Park, who was named Player of the Match, linked up once more for Leinster’s second try. After the ball popped up from a breakdown right on the Northampton Saints line, Gibson-Park reacted quickest to slap the ball out wide where Lowe was waiting once more.

Flyhalf Ross Byrne kicked one conversion and a penalty to give the Dublin-based club a solid 15 first-half points.

While Fin Smith kicked a penalty for Northampton Saints to ensure they did not go in at the break empty-handed, there was still a mountain to be climbed for the English club; their first-half handling had been poor and they rarely threatened, save for one attack which looked certain to end in a try only for James Ramm to mishandle the ball.


That mountain only grew taller when Leinster started the second period with a bang, Lowe once again finishing in the corner after prop Tadgh Furlong produced an audacious offload to feed fullback Ciaran Frawley, who sent the ball out wide to the wing.

Yet it would be Northampton Saints who would cross next, some poor defending allowing wing George Hendy to seize on a loose ball for the Premiership club’s first try, Smith converting to make it a ten-point game.

Byrne had struggled from the tee all day, and his woes continued when he missed a penalty from the centre of the field, albeit from far back.

That left the door slightly ajar for Northampton Saints, the next ten minutes seeing the game become a dogged, physical battle for control.


As replacement prop Cian Healy came on the visitors looked to be winning the arm-wrestle and replacement Tom Seabrook stunned the Croke Park crowd as he went over in the corner.

Smith kicked the extras, and suddenly it was a three-point game with five to go. Leinster went through the phases but a Northampton Saints turnover had the crowd’s hearts in their mouths.

The English club got closer and closer to the line, but No. 8 Caelan Doris produced a vital turnover to kill the game and save the hosts, Lowe’s hat-trick proving just enough to secure Leinster a third straight Champions Cup final.

They will face either Stade Toulousain or Harlequins at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium on May 25, as they play for a record-equaling fifth star.


For Leinster:
Tries: Lowe 3
Cons: R Byrne
Pens: R Byrne

For Northampton:
Tries: Hendy, Seabrook
Cons: Smith 2
Pens: Smith


Leinster: 15 Ciarán Frawley, 1. Jordan Larmour, 13. Robbie Henshaw, 12 Jamie Osborne, 11 James Lowe, 10 Ross Byrne, 9 Jamison Gibson-Park, 8 Caelan Doris (captain), 7 Josh van der Flier, 6 Ryan Baird, 5 Joe McCarthy, 4 Ross Molony, 3 Tadhg Furlong, 2 Dan Sheehan, 1 Andrew Porter
Replacements: 17 Cian Healy, 18 Michael Ala’alatoa, 19 Jason Jenkins, 20 Jack Conan, 21 Luke McGrath, 22 Harry Byrne, 23 Jimmy O’Brien

Northampton Saints: 15 George Furbank, 14 James Ramm, 13 Tommy Freeman, 12 Fraser Dingwall, 11 George Hendy, 10 Fin Smith, 9 Alex Mitchell, 8 Juarno Augustus, 7 Sam Graham, 6 Courtney Lawes (captain), 5 Alex Coles, 4 Alex Moon, 3 Trevor Davison, 2 Curtis Langdon, 1 Alex Waller
Replacements: 16 Sam Matavesi, 17 Emmanuel Iyogun, 18 Elliot Millar Mills, 19 Temo Mayanavanua, 20 Angus Scott-Young, 21 Tom James, 22 Tom Litchfield, 23 Tom Seabrook

Referee: Mathieu Raynal (France)
Assistant referees: Pierre Brousset (France), Luc Ramos (France)
TMO: Thomas Charabas (France)

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