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Leinster v Northampton -Teams and Prediction

SATURDAY PREVIEW: Leinster and Northampton Saints harbour realistic dreams of a domestic and EPCR double when they front up in the semifinal of the Champions Cup at a sold-out Croke Park in Dublin on Saturday.


The semifinal will be the first Champions Cup fixture staged at Croke Park since four-time European champions Leinster beat Irish rivals Munster there in the semifinal in May 2009.

English Premiership leaders Northampton, the 2000 European champions, are determined to avoid being overawed by the occasion.

Leinster are playing what is effectively a home match at Dublin’s Croke Park stadium following defeats in the past two finals at the hands of La Rochelle.

Leinster lies second domestically, but it’s fooling nobody. They qualified as second seeds in the Champions Cup behind an equally rampant Stade Toulousain, beating reigning champions Stade Rochelais on the way to winning all four of their pool matches and repeating that feat in the quarter-final.

No fewer than four of their players cracked the short list of eight for Player of the Year.

Meanwhile, Northampton Saints also qualified with four wins out of four, an impressive feat for a young side who have developed at an extraordinary pace through the season.


Led by the indefatigable Courtney Lawes in his farewell season (and also a Player of the Year nominee, along with flyhalf Fin Smith), Northampton Saints have also stormed the Premiership summit.

Leinster is the firm favourites, but the last time their full squad played competitively together was in that quarterfinal against Stade Rochelais. Keeping the internationals fresh after a long season is crucial, but it is also a strategy that had a seemingly negative effect in last year’s final.

Northampton Saints have had no such luxury, although some starters were benched for the recent Premiership clashes – an impressive win over East Midlands rivals Leicester Tigers, followed by a thrilling defeat against fellow Champions Cup semifinalists Harlequins.

The theory goes that Leinster should be fresher, given their deeper resources.


“It’s a fine line between being battle-hardened and battle-weary,” said Leinster assistant coach Robin McBryde.

“We’ve had Lee (Radford, defensive coach) come in with a big influence from rugby league and he has kind of given us more of that. And that has allowed our season to blossom a little more,” said centre Fraser Dingwall.

Northampton has been learning about the history of Croke Park in anticipation of becoming the first English club side to play at the home of Gaelic sport.

George Furbank and James Ramm retain their places in Saints’ back three, at fullback and wing respectively, while 21-year-old George Hendy returns from injury to start on Northampton’s other wing.

Fraser Dingwall also returns to the starting line-up for Saints, partnering Tommy Freeman – who has made more post-contact metres (115) than any other player in the tournament so far – in Northampton’s centres.

Also just 21, Fin Smith (both Saints’ top points-scorer (65) and leading tackler (71) in the competition so far) takes his position at fly-half, with fellow England international Alex Mitchell at scrum-half beside him.

Alex Waller brings up his 375th appearance in a Saints shirt in Dublin as he starts at loosehead prop, with hooker Curtis Langdon and tighthead Trevor Davison completing Northampton’s front row.

Locks Alex Moon and Alex Coles both return to Saints’ starting XV this weekend, with the pair of Club centurions partnering in Northampton’s engine room for the third consecutive Investec Champions Cup clash.

The winners of the two semifinals will meet in a May 25 final at London’s Tottenham Hotspur Stadium.

@rugby365com: Leinster by 12 points


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

Date: Saturday, May 4
Venue: Croke Park, Dublin
Kick-off: 17.30 GMT (18.30 SA time)

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

@ChampionsCup & @AFP

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