Second row Samu Manoa’s 50th-minute try was the crucial score of Friday’s pre-season friendly at Donnybrook as Leinster were beaten 21-13 by English visitors Northampton Saints…
Playing in their final pre-season encounter before their new RaboDirect PRO12 campaign begins in earnest next weekend, Leinster started with plenty of intent.
After a promising sequence of play in the Northampton 22, Matt O’Connor’s men took the lead with just five minutes on the clock.
Lansdowne prop Martin Moore supplied the finishing touches on this occasion, as he drove over at the end of a powerful maul to the right of the Northampton posts.
This was precisely the start that O’Connor would have been hoping for in front of a lively home crowd, and although out-half Jimmy Gopperth was marginally wide with his conversion from a tight angle, they had developed a positive early platform.
Northampton, who had British & Irish Lions George North and Alex Corbisiero in their starting line-up, soon settled into the proceedings though.
Saints were back on terms 18 minutes into the contest when their own tighthead prop, Gareth Denman, stylishly finished off an enterprising drive from a wide position.
Place-kicker Stephen Myler’s conversion attempt drifted past the target from the left-wing, however, and Leinster took full advantage of this missed opportunity just four minutes later.
Gopperth – playing in his second game since his summer move from Newcastle Falcons – coolly slotted a routine penalty between the posts.
Following the frantic early exchanges, the play from both teams became quite subdued approaching the interval, although outstanding defensive cover was needed from Leinster on the stroke of half-time to prevent a certain try for right winger Ken Pisi.
This ensured that Leinster took an encouraging 8-5 lead into the second period, but with the two sides opting to utilise their replacement benches to a major extent, play did start to open up as the game wore on.
Manoa stormed over on the left hand side ten minutes after the restart for Saints’ second try. With Myler following his expertly-taken conversion with a comfortable 58th minute penalty, Leinster now found themselves 15-8 down.
Northampton were starting to dominate territorially heading into the final quarter, and they extended their advantage even further 14 minutes from time courtesy of a clinically struck penalty by replacement Sam Olver.
During the closing stages, Northampton used their greater on-field experience to their advantage and opened up an insurmountable cushion four minutes from the end with another Olver three-pointer from distance.
O’Connor’s young home side managed to increase the tempo late on, aided by half-time replacements Eoin Reddan and David Kearney who made welcome returns in the back-line.
Promising flanker Dan Leavy, who came on for captain Shane Jennings, broke through for a well-deserved 79th minute try but it was not enough to deny Northampton a hard-earned victory.
Referee: George Clancy (IRFU)