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Leinster hold off Northampton Saints comeback to reach Champions Cup final

Leinster were made to fight tooth and nail to book their place in a third successive Champions Cup final, as they hold onto a 20-17 win over Northampton Saints.

A 50-minute James Lowe hat-trick was enough to steer Leinster to victory in front of 82,300 spectators at Croke Park.

After a nervy start, a quick-fire James Lowe brace gave Leinster the early advantage. A clever tap-and-go from Jamison Gibson-Park caught Northampton off guard, and his floated pass allowed Lowe to stroll in unopposed. The pair were back just three minutes later, as Gibson-Park sneakily offloaded to send Lowe over in the same corner.

James Lowe celebrates second try against Northampton Saints-Credit: IMAGO

James Lowe celebrates second try against Northampton Saints-Credit: IMAGO

Uncharacteristic errors and spats of ill-discipline from Northampton were ruthlessly punished by Leinster, as Ross Byrne added another three points to his haul.

The Irish side pounded the Saints line again just minutes later, but a great turnover from Courtney Lawes stopped the attack in its tracks.

This turnover galvanised Northampton, and they in-turn put some pressure on their opposition for the first time in the game. James Ramm could have scored after some lovely hands through the backline, but he couldn’t hold onto the ball.

Luckily for the Saints, they were playing with a penalty advantage, and Fin Smith duly added Saints’ first points of the game.

Northampton fly-half Fin Smith kicks a penalty-Credit: IMAGO

Northampton fly-half Fin Smith kicks a penalty-Credit: IMAGO

With the clock in the red, Leinster again pounded the Northampton line, but a huge tackle from Sam Graham knocked the ball out of Josh van der Flier’s hands and the Saints escaped scot free.

Too little too late for Northampton Saints

Leinster again came out the traps quickly in the second-half. A powerful surge from Ryan Baird broke through the Saints line, however it took some patience to finally create the space for Lowe to again coast in the corner for his hat-trick.

Northampton regrouped though and again built through some phases; however a clever rip from Joe McCarthy stopped the attack just meters from the line.

The Saints kept the pressure up though, and finally got the try their possession deserved. A clever kick from George Hendy wasn’t dealt with by Jordan Lamour, and the flying Saints winger pounced on the loose ball to score.

George Hendy crosses for Northampton Saints-Credit: IMAGO

George Hendy crosses for Northampton Saints-Credit: IMAGO

Trench warfare set in after this, with neither side able to break their opponents down. Byrne could of extended his side’s lead from the tee, however his effort was unsuccessful.

A moment of magic was needed if Northampton were to come back into it, and it nearly came from Tommy Freeman. A clever kick got the winger in-behind the Leinster defence, but it was well dealt with by Gibson-Park.

It didn’t kill the move completely though, and they capitalised through Tom Seabrook. Powerful work from the Saints pack drew in the Leinster defence, but it took a lovely pass from Smith to send his winger over in the corner. Ironically similar to Leinster’s tries.

With the clock winding down, Northampton had one final chance to snatch the win. Lovely attack marched them up to Leinster’s 22, but Caelan Doris came through with a crucial turnover to book his team’s spot in the Champions Cup final.

Leinster 20-17 Northampton Saints

Leinster: 20

Tries: Lowe (3)

Conversions: Byrne (1/3)

Penalties: Byrne (1/2)

Northampton Saints: 17

Tries: Hendy, Seabrook

Conversions: Smith (2/2)

Penalties: Smith (1/1)