Investec Champions Cup: Leinster 20-17 Northampton – Leinster beat Saints to make Euro final with Lowe treble

Comment on the photo, Leinster will compete in the European Champions Cup final for the fifth time in seven seasons

  • author, Jonathan Bradley in Croke Park
  • Role, BBC Sport Northern Ireland

Investec Champions Cup: Leinster vs Northampton Saints

Try: Louie 3 cons: Bern Pens: Bern

Try: Indian, Seabrook cons: Smith 2 Pens: Smith

Leinster advanced to the final of the Investec Champions Cup with a nervy 20-17 win over Northampton Saints in Dublin.

Having beaten finalists the past two seasons, Leinster took an early lead through two tries from James Lowe and looked in a commanding position.

The Irish winger completed his hat-trick three minutes into the second half but Northampton launched a powerful response and scored the final 14 points of the game as Leinster ended their hold.

The Irish province will now play the winner of Sunday’s semi-final between Toulouse and Harlequins at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium on May 25.

The match was played in front of a European Champions Cup record crowd of 82,300 at Croke Park in Dublin, the home of the Gaelic Athletic Association (GAA) hosting a rugby match for the first time since Leinster beat Munster at this stage of the Heineken Cup in 2009.

Cian Healy, who came off the Leinster bench to set a new record European Champions Cup appearance, was the only member of the home team’s squad from that day still here, but the four-time winner looked at home early on.

It will be a huge disappointment to Northampton that they played such a hand in allowing the home side to gain an early foothold.

Both of Lowe’s attempts in the first quarter of an hour were the result of errors from Saints.

George Hendy’s fumble from a Leinster kick gave the opposition the ball before Saints failed to respond to Jamieson Gibson-Park’s quick pass and the Irish scrum-half put his pass between two Northampton defenders for Lowe to take charge and score.

Comment on the photo, Northampton struggled against an aggressive Leinster defence

Northampton were equally complicit in the winger’s second goal, this time the turnover coming from a pass intercepted in midfield.

Ross Byrne didn’t have enough speed to take the ball all the way to make the score, but when Kaylan Doris was brought down, the ball popped up and was sent to Lowe to cross again in the same corner.

Against Jack Nienaber’s World Cup-winning Springbok defence, tackling accuracy is crucial, but Saints dropped too much of the ball to gain a foothold in the first half.

Leo Cullen’s side were without Test players Hugo Keenan, Gary Ringrose and James Ryan, but Northampton missed their absences, Ollie Slitholme and Lewis Ludlum, more acutely, particularly in terms of their carries.

Saints, who beat Leinster’s Irish rivals Munster in the round of 16, were unable to maintain possession and were penalized for turnovers.

The buildup was a back-and-forth tussle but a penalty was awarded there on the half-hour as Burn pushed Leinster ahead 15-0.

Things could have been worse for Northampton but a good turn by captain Courtney Laws from five meters out stopped any further attack.

When Saints finally got the better of the attack, he passed the ball brilliantly behind the outside cover, the final pass being behind James Rahm and the winger unable to collect it.

Playing with a penalty advantage, Finn Smith at least scored his first three points of the day just before the turn.

Comment on the photo, Lowe completed his hat-trick in the 43rd minute

Leinster were in front from the start of the second half as the ball passed patiently for Lowe to score again in the 43rd minute.

Northampton responded with a more consistent spell of possession but was undone by timely tackles, first from Joe McCarthy and then Andrew Porter.

This match has already seen a famous comeback, as Leinster came from 22-6 down to win the 2011 final 33-22, and hopes of a similar turnaround were raised when Northampton forced a pair of late goals.

In the 58th minute, when Leinster lost a streak in their own half, Hendy took advantage of broken play to surge forward and rally to give his side a lifeline.

Leinster still led by 10 points, and only seemed to respond quickly to a Byrne penalty kick that drifted wide. A partisan Croke Park crowd cheered as the ball came off the line, welcoming the sight of Ireland head coach Andy Farrell on the big screens.

Northampton would bring the game within the scoreline when they edged past Tom Seabrook in the 74th minute, after Saints had fought back to win a penalty.

Smith’s conversion cut Leinster’s lead to just three and Saints threatened with one of the great comebacks in the final minutes only for replacement back-rower Jack Coonan’s turnover with 40 seconds left to seal Croke Park’s final roar.

Northampton remain top of the Premier League, and will take much of their final quarter to home games.

Meanwhile, Leinster are preparing for their third consecutive European Champions Cup final.

Leinster: Strawberry. Larmour, Henshaw, Osborne, Lowe; R Byrne, Gibson Park; Porter, Sheehan, Furlong; Moloney, McCarthy. Baird, van der Flier, Doris (Captain).

Replacements: Kelleher, Healy, Alalatoa, Jenkins, Coonan, McGrath, H. Byrne, O’Brien.

Northampton: Forbank. Ram, Freeman, Dingwall, Indian; Smith Mitchell. Waller, Langdon, Davison; Moon, Coles; Laws (Captain), Graham, Augustus.

Replacements: Matafesi, Ayogun, Millar Mills, Maianavanua, Scott-Young, James, Litchfield, Seabrook.

to rule: Mathieu Raynal (France)

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